Emmerdale star Ash Palmisciano on why showing trans love on screen is ‘incredibly important’

Emmerdale star and out trans actor Ash Palmisciano wears a white shirt and blue button up over it as he stares towards the camera

When Ash Palmisciano first appeared in Emmerdale in 2018, the out trans actor knew the role would be huge – but even he didn’t realise the true significance of portraying Matty Barton until years later. 

The British soap first aired in 1972 as Emmerdale Farm, its title until November 1989. The ITV programme shows the highs and lows of a tight-knit rural community.

Over the years – and more than 400 episodes – he’s appeared on the show, Palmisciano introduced fans, both old and new, to trans-led storylines. These included Matty facing anti-trans bias, opening up about what it’s like to be transgender outside a big town or city, and navigating his relationship with Amy Wyatt (Natalie Ann Jamieson) before the pair get married in an upcoming episode.

Matty was originally only going to be seen for three months, Palmisciano told PinkNews, but he’s still going strong.

“To be able to play the first trans character in Emmerdale was huge. I grew up with soaps on television in the background,” he said. “We would have it on while we’re having dinner, things like that. 

“For me to then join a huge British show as the first trans character was surreal because it’s what I wanted to do. It’s all I ever wanted to do. 

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“To be able to recycle my personal experience, my passion for positive representation and marry that with my passion for acting was a dream come true.”

A graphic composed of a blue and pink gradient with the logo for ITV soap opera Emmerdale as well as photos of trans actor Ash Palmisciano
Ash Palmisciano says it’s been a “dream come true” to show “positive representation and marry that with my passion for acting” while on Emmerdale. (Canva/ITV/Mark Bruce)

Matty’s continued appearance allowed the show to cover some “fantastic trans-led stories” such as the character’s experience with top surgery, the “difficulties with coming out to family” and even the “basics of what it means to be trans”. 

At the time, such storylines were rare on TV and Emmerdale was “really starting from scratch”, Palmisciano admitted. 

These days, Matty is a series regular with an “amazing relationship”, which is exactly what the star set out to achieve: normalising a trans character’s life and experiences. 

Sharing trans-led stories is “incredibly important” to him, and he is grateful to be able to “show this whole story in full”, given that such storylines sometimes get pushed to the side.

“The character I’m playing is incredibly important… because people still don’t really understand what it is to be under the trans umbrella,” the actor said. “But, more importantly, the fact that he just exists in that world is huge. 

“When I was growing up and struggling with who I was, there was no one on television to reference. That leads to feeling quite isolated, different, confused and scared to step out on your own and be who you are. 

“If I’d have seen someone like Matty when I was younger, who not only had the bravery to step out into the world and become who he is, but also to function in a world where people accept him, and [for him] to be able to fall in love and meet someone… showing that he can exist in this world and find that person, for me, that’s incredibly important.”

Emmerdale star and out trans actor Ash Palmisciano wears a white shirt and blue and grey patterned button up over it as he stares towards the camera
Even Ash wasn’t aware of the bigger picture regarding transphobia. (ITV/Mark Bruce)

While he’s experienced immense joy and won support for playing an out trans character, Palmisciano has also faced a backlash as a result his Emmerdale role. He admitted that he wasn’t prepared or “aware of the bigger picture of how much transphobia is out there” when he took the job. 

It was a shock to be asked intrusive questions by members of the public or be subjected to online trolling, he said. But he’s “learnt to navigate” the hate, and it’s made him realise how much more needs to be done. 

“Because I’ve experienced what I’ve experienced, I feel even more passionate about trans rights,” he said. “I’m not an activist. I’m an actor, but, because of what I’ve experienced, I feel I have to do things. I have to try to make a difference. I have to help educate people. 

“Obviously, I can’t do everything, and sometimes trans people feel pushed to become activists and speak out because we need it. 

“What I’ve tried to do is focus on telling this story. Hopefully doing that and telling truth and authenticity, and showing the human who is relatable to that, [will] help change every-day attitudes on the street slowly but surely.