Danielle Laidley has fiercely defended the AFL, saying the sport she thought might have killed her instead provided great support when she needed it most.
The North Melbourne premiership player and coach was speaking at the Melbourne premiere of her documentary "Two Tribes", a raw account of her life.
Laidley said when she was arrested three years ago and photos of her were made public, effectively outing her as transgender, AFL figures were among the first to support her.
"When you live in fear, shame and embarrassment for all those years, because of what people will think of you ... then, when it all turned to s***, they were the first people there," she said.
"I can't put it into words - I'm so grateful of how they've accepted me.
"Through my journey, I perhaps always thought that maybe one day football would kill me - but invariably it's saved my life. No question."
She took exception to an ABC program last month, which looked at the fact that the league has never had an openly gay player.
"I was livid at the Four Corners episode a few weeks ago where they labelled the AFL homophobic - absolutely not the case," she said.
"In Gil's words (AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan), yeah, there may be gay players - their teammates know, their families and friends know. That's all that's important.
"It's more a societal issue and hopefully I've been able to break down some of those barriers."
McLachlan and Laidley's old North teammates including Anthony Stevens and Darren Crocker were at the documentary launch.
Sitting next to her partner Donna Leckie, Laidley was emotional as she thanked her family, friends and the AFL for their support.
"I will never forget this moment," she said.
Laidley said there were two reasons the documentary was made.
"The narrative that came out was not kind and we wanted to take control of that narrative and tell the story in our own words," she said of the events of three years ago," she said.
"Secondly, other people who may go through gender dysphoria, or mental health or addiction issues - to send a message out to the community, I suppose."
Asked whether she felt relieved, nervous or triumphant at the premiere, Laidley replied: "The whole lot - everything.
"This has been nearly three years in the making," she said.
"Tonight we hand it over to the world."
Laidley also credited a life in the AFL for helping her handle the traumatic events of three years ago.
While her son Kane was at the premiere and features prominently in the documentary, she remains estranged from her two daughters.
"It gave me some basic skills to handle that nasty media and the narrative," she said.
"We've gotten through it. It's still a work in progress.
"It's been really hard on our family - hard.
"I'm proud of all of my children. They've had a lot to deal with themselves."
Laidley added "utopia" would be a Christmas with all the family reunited.
"As much as it hurts me - I made some mistakes along the way - I'm proud of them living their own journey and hopefully those journeys cross very soon," she said.
"The black hole is still my daughters and that's a work in progress. The reality is it's on their time, not my time."