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"A place where we grow up, a place where we’re loved and accepted": Talking to Danielle Laidley about her two tribes, the AFL and the trans community
Danielle Laidley: The Two Tribes - is a documentary about the life of one of Australia's most successful and well-known trans women. Our writer Natalie Feliks interviews the icon.
When it comes to well-known trans people in Australia, many people will point to former footy player and coach Danielle Laidley. The former North Melbourne star had an illustrious career with the AFL, developing a reputation of playing and coaching with significant aggression and earning the nickname of “The Junkyard Dog”.
But her notoriety in AFL also led to a deeply chilling moment where she was outed by Victoria Police who distributed pictures of her in female presentation without her permission to the media.
After having such a crucial aspect of her identity stolen from her, Dani has now been given the opportunity to tell her own story in a Stan documentary – Danielle Laidley: Two Tribes. The two tribes being, of course, the AFL community and the trans community.
Taking control of the narrative
Talking to All The Heterosexual Nonsense, Danielle said that the documentary was partially designed to empower other trans people going through similar difficult periods of their life, but also to “right some wrongs and take control of the narrative, show the good, the bad and the indifferent”.
The documentary is a deeply emotional story detailing her childhood, her illustrious football career, and her traumatic coming out. Growing up well before transgender people were a well-known part of society, Dani, naturally gifted with sports, found herself making close bonds with people in AFL which despite the hyper-masculine environment, became her safe space whilst coping with gender dysphoria. She was a key part of North Melbourne’s 1996 premiership-winning team and also a seven-year career as North Melbourne’s senior coach from 2003 to 2009.
Despite her gender dysphoria “absolutely roaring”, as she describes it, Dani has extremely fond memories of her time in the AFL and particularly the friendships she fostered within it. She speaks very passionately about the sport, declaring that it saved her life.
Dani disputes the suggestion of AFL as a queerphobic space, such as that which was covered in a recent Four Corners episode, even branding the ABC piece as “an absolute disgrace”.
They way they’ve supported me has been quite incredible, from the CEO to people I’ve played with and people I’ve coached, and football clubs are caring, loving environments with empathy because the stresses of the game are enormous.
A forced outing
Danielle’s status as a high-profile figure in AFL contributed to the distress she experienced from her forced outing by Victoria Police in 2020.
Whilst being charged for stalking and drug possession, Dani was photographed in femme presentation without her consent and the photos were distributed to the media. The officer responsible was acquitted of leaking sensitive details but charged with a separate scandal of leaking photos of a crime scene a year later.
This horrific incident was beautifully described in the documentary and despite the pain of reliving such disgusting transphobia by police, Dani remains positive about her transition and her future.
Looking back, I wouldn’t change all that much in my life, perhaps the how and the when of getting here and how it became public, and I made some mistakes and I would love to have that time again, but you can’t.
Looking where I was and where I am now and how I’m growing into this person that I want to be, it’s still a learning curve for me.
Dani even hopes to return to coaching at some point, and is optimistic about the future of young queer players in the AFL, saying:
The AFL has had a diversity and inclusion policy since 2018 on the back off the Hannah Mouncey situation. In the words of Gill McLachlan, our game is for everyone.
I’m not too fazed about elite sport… my philosophy is let the science work that out. I’m more concerned about community sports, because so much of the Australian culture is that they do become our tribes. They’re a place where we grow up, they’re a place where we’re loved and accepted.
What we’re starting to see is young transgender people being able to participate and that’s a wonderful thing.
Danielle Laidley: The Two Tribes is available on STAN from 19th September. Please watch it, it’s amazing!
Natalie Feliks is a writer and activist originally from Adelaide, now living in Melbourne. She's written for the likes of Junkee, Crikey, and Overland, and spends her time listening to pop music and eating chocolate.
‘They’re awesome’: Hannah Mouncey celebrates Australia’s new sports trans guidelines - Sydney Morning Herald
Standing ovation for Danielle Laidley doco - TV Tonight