Emmerdale’s Ash Palmisciano feared coming out as trans but what followed was magical

Emmerdale star Ash Palmisciano has been a fan favourite since his debut in the show as the first ever trans man to play a leading trans male role in a UK soap.

Inspiring many – some who have reached out directly to the Matty Barton star – the 34-year-old is proud to play the everyman character who is not solely defined by his gender identity.

At the moment, his alter-ego is embroiled in a tough but very relevant story which sees Matty struggling in prison, fearing that fellow inmates will discover he is trans.

It’s one in a long line of stories that he has been thrilled to play, including a recent wedding to Amy Wyatt, played by Natalie Ann Jamieson.

 

Off-screen, the actor has had quite a journey too and, as part of Metro.co.uk’s Pride month coverage, he sat down with me to discuss his initial fears around coming out, the joy he has found and the privilege of being able to represent the trans community on his Emmerdale platform

Can you tell me about your experiences of Pride and what it means to you?
For me, Pride is incredibly important. I think it’s an amazing reminder that there’s a whole community out there ready to support you and sadly, in this day and age, that isn’t always the case if you’re LGBTQ+.

It’s a chance to kind of step into a world where everyone is super accepting and everyone celebrates being who you are. It’s sort of a chance to recharge and remind yourself that it’s absolutely fine to be yourself and actually it makes you unique and amazing.

 

Ash Palmisciano at Pride with a friend
‘Everyone celebrates being who you are’ (Picture: Ash Palmisciano)

It’s just really joyous, really fun and really lovely and everyone needs that, no matter who you are. Pride creates that space and I’ve always been really drawn to that, and really passionate about helping out with Prides as well.

I presented Hull Pride last year which was absolutely incredible and I’m actually doing it again this year, they’ve asked me to come back. The atmosphere was just unreal. Everyone was happy, everyone was supportive and inclusive.

It didn’t matter what you looked like or who you were, and there’s something so magical about that.

Do you remember your very first Pride?

I remember being completely overwhelmed and excited in a positive way, at how many other people there that were similar to me.It was so exciting as a younger person seeing all the colours and the parades, feeling really accepted. It was a real confidence boost, a real reminder that there’s all these amazing people who are all different – and that’s ok.

I remember it being a really fun time with all my friends and obviously we danced, we partied. Growing up then, a bit later, I first experienced trans Pride in Brighton. I’d never been to a separate trans Pride before and it was incredible.

Emmerdale cast at Pride in photo montage
Ash feels honoured to have attended Pride with the Emmerdale team (Picture: Ash Palmisciano)
Ash Palmisciano draped in the trans flag
‘The atmosphere of Pride – you can’t quite bottle it’ (Picture: Ash Palmisciano)

It’s a little bit more of a protest that one, with a huge parade and a walk through the streets of Brighton. I remember standing there and it was so powerful being with so many people who had your back and were supportive, celebrating you!

I always say to anybody, ‘If you’re out there and you’re struggling with your sexuality, or your gender, Pride is a really good place to go to feel accepted and to know you’re not alone in the world.’

The first Pride following Emmerdale was in Leeds and we did the Parade with the team. The atmosphere – you can’t quite bottle it. It’s so happy and so joyous and gives you the reminder that there’s a lot of people out to support you.

The reality of LGBTQ+ acceptance can be different online, so it’s good to have those reminders that actually, there is a lot of love and acceptance

Yeah, I always say that social media isn’t really an accurate portrayal of what people think and of what’s going on in the world, we often only see a certain viewpoint a lot. I think it’s really lovely to go to Pride because there’s sometimes thousands of people that just celebrate love, no matter who you are.

You don’t even have to be LGBTQ+ to enjoy that. It’s a really wholesome, lovely day, reminding you that you’re not on your own in the world.

You wrote a column for us a few years ago and you told us you ‘took the scenic route’ to get to where you are. You had a lot of support when you came out, what did that feel like? 

That explains who I am in the sense that it took a bit of time to figure out who I was and to have the confidence to say that. When I was growing up, there was absolutely no representation on TV for trans people and when we started to see bits and bobs, it was never positive.

So obviously, it was such a huge thing for me to come out. I didn’t really want to come out and be rejected or disliked. When I eventually did, because I think naturally you can’t hide who you are – there’s nothing more normal than being yourself – I got to that point and luckily my family were supportive.

I have a very lovely sister who I trusted very much and I could speak to about how I was perhaps struggling with myself a bit and thinking about growing up. I got down to who I was. I was really lucky and I know that’s not always the case with people and you have to be careful who you come out to, but for me it felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulder.

Ash Palmisciano attending the Diversity Awards
The actor was relieved to be able to be himself and also focus on his career (Picture: Getty)

I wanted to fit in and be liked, be an actor and have a career and have a great group of friends – everything was perfect in my life and I was scared I was going to lose all that if I was myself. Actually what happened was, my relationships got better and my head was so clear that I could focus on my career and revisit the acting.

I became a better person, a better brother, a better son, because I was more authentic and myself. I wasn’t having to perform or act a part. For me, that feeling, after you’ve kept a secret to yourself for so long, it feels like you’re delivering the biggest news in the world.

I imagine it came with a lot of anxiety at first?

I remember feeling so anxious and nervous and it took a long time. I didn’t come out straight away, it was a slow process. That can sometimes happen, it’s quite a scary thing. When it was well received with my family, it gave me the confidence to say ‘It’s going to be okay.’ We didn’t know any transgender people so it was all new to everybody that I knew, and we were figuring out as we went.

Ultimately, when you love someone, you want the best for them. You want them to be happy and you’ve got to trust that. I think eventually, people saw that it was absolutely the right thing and made complete sense for me.

Sometimes even now, even though I transitioned quite a while before playing this role, I can’t believe how far I’m come in the last 11 years. I think ‘Wow, I really struggled back then, but look how I feel now.’

My message is that it is possible to change your life, if you need to make those changes. You’ve got to be comfortable and ready to do it.

What response do you get from playing Matty, and how does it feel as the first male trans actor playing a trans role in Emmerdale? 

Playing the first trans character in Emmerdale is huge. I wanted to make sure that we get representation because I know how important that is. When I was growing up, there was absolutely nobody on TV to reference. When we did see the odd person, most of the time they probably weren’t even trans.

It was a negative representation of someone who wasn’t accepted by society. I really wanted to take on this role and provide that positive representation, just in case, if by chance, someone was watching Emmerdale, a younger person or even an older person, and they think they might be trans.

Natalie Ann Jameson and Ash Palmisciano as Amy and Matty in their wedding outfits in Emmerdale
The wedding episode brought joy – and showed the audience that trans lives can be normal and happy (Picture: ITV)

I’ve had mums and grandmas message me that perhaps have grandchildren or family members that happen to be trans and they’ve said it’s amazing that we’ve got a reference point to think it’s similar [to their situation].

I received a letter once from a younger person who was trans and was transitioned or thinking about it, and they said it was really difficult for them at school. They were out as trans and it was really hard. But when my character started on TV, it got easier for them to explain who they were. To be able to make someone’s life a bit easier is a huge honour.

That’s so important growing up to show you the way to say, ‘Actually, you can be trans, have a great career and achieve everything you want in life. It doesn’t set you back, you’re not strange and you deserve to be yourself.’ My careers advisor told me I’d never get a job on TV [laughs].

But there’s a pressure because I want to get it right and make sure we’re doing the best stories we can do. Emmerdale are fantastic at that with the structure of support they provide and the fact they want to get it right and mirror exactly what’s going on.

Emmerdale’s got such a fantastic audience that to break down what it means to be trans to them, to watch me and then start to forget I’m trans, is what I sought out to do. I want to be seen as an everyday character in the village.

Do you feel you’ve had the storylines that reflect that? That Matty isn’t defined solely by his gender?

Obviously Matty is now married to a lovely partner, he’s got his whole life ahead of him and to be able to do that is so huge. I take it very seriously, I want to get the representation right and I just hope that it helps somebody somewhere.

I really hope that it helps take the fear out of it a little bit for people who don’t know much about being trans or have been fed the wrong image of what a trans person is in the past, or seen negative stuff on social media.

Ash Palmisciano as Matty in his wedding outfit in Emmerdale
Ash couldn’t be happier at Emmerdale and adores playing Matty (Picture: ITV)

Just to show an everyday person who just so happens to be trans living their life and having the same problems as everyone else does in life, falling in love and how to deal with that.

It’s huge to me and the little kid inside of me would be so proud right now because I became the person, without sounding too cheesy, the person I needed to see. Someone similar to who I was. I feel like it’s a huge responsibility but also a privilege as well.

People respond to Matty so well because he’s just so normal. But he has his flaws like we all do, and he makes mistakes and is embroiled in some quite dramatic stories. Are you still having a lot of fun at Emmerdale? Do you have a favourite story?

Definitely. I love working at Emmerdale. I have to say it’s such a great character to play and the power of soap is huge. It does a little something – it puts into society the mirror image of us all that we can all learn about each other from.

Storylines can be so powerful and have a big effect on people, like the first lesbian kiss in Brookside which was transformative to see on screen. I hope that this character has that effect.

 

 

I love being able to show things like the wedding. That’s probably the first trans man to get married on UK television. The fact is we didn’t really make it about that, we wanted to show a couple who fell in love. It was a really happy, lovely, sweet episode and I’m really proud of it.

Hopefully it will help make Matty, but also other trans people, human. People will see that actually, trans people are just like everybody else and don’t deserve that kind of hate for no reason.

The upcoming stuff that’s on screen this week has been my favourite stuff that I’ve ever done at Emmerdale. It’s so great and really real. Amazing actors showing a truthful perception of a snapshot of life and what it can be like.

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