“I’m just being me”

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Star AFL player, top coach, drug addict, transgender role model … her life trajectory has been anything but linear. The love of a childhood sweetheart and some staunch footy mates are helping her come out the other side.


Danielle May Laidley sits silently in the grandstands above the Melbourne Cricket Ground, her angular face squinting. The pearlescent stiletto nail of her index finger bobs up and down and left and right, but seems to be pointing away from the footy itself. I ask why. “Counting players,” she murmurs. “North Melbourne are playing a spare defender and conceding a man at stoppages. You do that when you’re trying to protect against a blowout – stem the tide, steal a few goals on counter-attack.”

Laidley, 56, would know. The most famous trans­gender person in Australia played 151 AFL games as a scrawny, antagonistic half-back flank for the West Coast Eagles and the North Melbourne Kangaroos, before leading the latter for 149 games as its inscrutable, choleric coach.

See that forward pocket? That’s where she once ran back with the flight of the Sherrin in front of the ­murderous bulk of Tony Lockett, the football equivalent of throwing yourself in front of a freight train. See that wing? That’s where she tore her anterior cruciate ligament, watched the lower half of her unhinged limb sway like the pendulum on a grandfather clock, and vomited. The centre circle? That’s where she collapsed with relief – knees down, arms up, eyes closed – after the 1996 grand final, having finally won the flag she hoped would make her feel whole. She can still hear that siren…

Click here for the full story from Good Weekend on Saturday September 9, 2023

Photography by Peter Brew-Bevan – Courtesy of Stan