Literature Opinion

BOOK REVIEW: Don't Look Away — A memoir of identity and acceptance

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The story of Dani Laidley is an uncompromising tale of inspiration, as told in her new autobiography. Suresh Rajan shares his thoughts on the new book.

IT IS NOT OFTEN that I approach a book with trepidation. Let me explain. I came to this country in 1975. I started watching VFL games soon thereafter. The North Melbourne team was made up of an array of stars including luminaries of the game such as Barry Cable, Ross Glendinning and others. I became a supporter and follower of that team.

Some years later, a young, tough, hard player joined their ranks. He grabbed my attention as this amazing young man with the determination of a number of those earlier players all rolled into one. With the benefit of hindsight stretching back so many years, that determination is exactly what got that person through to today.

My trepidation in reading this book was whether I could rid myself of that image and embrace the new person who was once that footballer. That person today is Danielle Laidley. If I were to see this remarkable lady, I would be embracing her and reassuring her that I am still a fan of her football prowess. But far more importantly, I have become an even more unabashed fan of her determination, strength of character and commitment to a cause.

I would also want to say to Dani that she has done something that so many of us spend a lifetime doing with little or no success. That is that she has “found” her true self and she is no longer forced to live a lie.

To even conceive an existence that is characterised by gender dysphoria from a very young age is so hard to do. To then compound that dysphoria by playing at the highest level of what was then only a men’s sport is almost impossible. Then take that one step further to place that sport in a culture that is so enamoured with machismo and you have a “perfect storm” of gender/sexuality and sexual orientation biases coming directly to impact a young person who identifies as a girl.

Danielle is no shrinking violet. She has been at the very edge of an abyss. An abyss characterised by drug dependence, self-harm and incredible hurt. She tells her story in graphic detail. She has no desire to sugarcoat anything. And that rawness is what makes this one of the most readable books I have come across.

There was so much that grabbed my attention in Dani’s story. At one point in my listening to the audiobook, I happened to be driving right past the very street that she grew up in. Every person that she named was someone that I knew from the Perth neighbourhoods that she frequented.

The Balga suburb is not far from my residence. My walks often take me through that area, too. And it is probably fair to say that that suburb was always known as a “tough” area. To grow up in a dysphoric state there would not have been easy. But it is that very hardness and confusion of mind that saw her turn into one of the finest AFL players we have produced in this state.

Don’t Look Away is a compelling, raw, honest telling of the story of someone who is tough, uncompromising and yet gentle. Danielle also happens to be very much in tune with her own emotions and persona. Interestingly, I was also drawn to wanting to find out lots more about the others in her journey. In particular, Donna comes across as someone I would love to chat to.

Danielle, there is a virtual hug in this review. I loved your story and I urge everyone to read it to understand the reasons for the high rate of suicide amongst people dealing with the gender dysphoria that Dani did.

Don't Look Away is available from Booktopia for $26.25 RRP (paperback).

Suresh Rajan is the president of the Ethnic Communities Council of Western Australia and a regular contributor on the subject of multiculturalism. You can follow Suresh on Twitter @SureshRajan6.

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