Before I start, it should be made clear that we’re entering into major spoiler territory for Star Wars: The Old Republic's Agent storyline. I'll also caution that my writing may not be as strong here as I'd like. This is actually a topic I wrote about roughly two years ago, when my persona was public. I deleted the article and kept no saved version of it, so I'm starting again from scratch.
The basic conceit is simple: while I do not think it was intentional on the part of Alexander Freed to write Hunter as an allegorical representation of anything, I think there is sufficient subtext to interpret Hunter as a character that does express issues involving dysphoria or outright transexualism. Some of this depends, interestingly, on the gender of the player character.
The context: Hunter is introduced to the player in Act 2 of the Agent storyline. In this plot, they are going undercover as a false defector to the Republic. Hunter is a competent Republic field agent working Ardun Kothe, a Jedi turned spy. The player engages with Hunter often, the nature of said engagement being varied. You can flirt with Hunter. You can show contempt for him and Kothe. By the end of Act 2, we learn Hunter is working for the Star Cabal and has his own agenda.
This leads into Act 3, wherein the Cabal is the main threat. As the player attempts to seize the Black Codex, they confront Hunter one last time. Facing death, Hunter reveals his secret. He is a she. Through the use of advanced holographic technology and Codex’s ability to manipulate data, Hunter was made to take up a male identity as part of the Cabal’s plots.
This is, perhaps, the closest the expanded universe of Star Wars gets to issues of gender identity. One might argue that this is because gender identity doesn’t seem that large of a deal in the fictional galaxy far, far away. This is partly true in the same way that race doesn’t seem to be a major issue. Lando Calrissian sees no trouble as a businessman or as a military officer due to the color of his skin. Still, real talk: having Lando as one of our heroes isn’t a big deal in universe but having Billy Dee Williams as one of our major actors in the series is.
Bear in mind, I use the term “seem” intentionally. There’s a lot to be said about the ways in which, for instance, Princess Leia is both a proactive and powerful figure while also being the most marginalized of the “Big Three”. Strong as a character as she is, we need to remember that she is still fulling some standard tropes in ANH and there’s no sidestepping the blatant sexualizing of ROTJ. In the EU, writers often struggled to make her contribute as much to the story as Han and Luke. The Trawn Trilogy, for instance, makes her proactive but also has C’Baoth obsessed with the children in her womb.
The point is that while in Star Wars, Leia’s gender or Lando’s race have little bearing, these things still matter in the real world and inform our relationship with the text. The same is the case for Hunter. In universe, Hunter’s gender doesn’t necessarily matter, although we might want to ask why she thought she’d do a better job infiltrating the Republic as a he. Out of universe, looking in, this gender confusion is kind of a big deal.
Before we even talk about the scene in question (and yes, I know I’m rambling, thank you very much), we need to at least ask what Freed’s intention is for this writing choice. The answer is uncomplicated. The Agent story is permeated with themes of identity and free will. It is not an accident that the major choice of the game: what to do with the Black Codex, is largely a choice about affirming loyalties and choosing one’s identity for themselves. It is also not an accident, I will suggest, that this ability to choose is intentionally juxtaposed with us learning that Hunter had no such luxury.
Onto the scene’s themselves: let us begin with the scene as contextualized by having Cipher Nine, the PC, be a female. The important quote: “Then you came along-you kept your face when you became Cipher Nine and I was so jealous…”
I encourage watching the scene. But the imagery presented is immediately striking if you understand dysphoria. If you understand the intense pain that comes from walking in a crowd and seeing people openly express their gender. If you know what it is like to feel like there is another you buried under your skin, waiting to burst out. In Hunter, speaking to a female player, we find a similar type of envy.
With Hunter, at least in this reading of the text, we have a woman who is hiding her true self, forced to socialize as a male. Questions of sexual identity can be raised: when we flirt with Hunter and Hunter is playful in return, is she acting?
The scene only changes somewhat if the character is male but, tellingly, the matter of jealousy is dropped. “By the time you came along, it was too late to change. But you understood, you knew I liked you…”
Here, the affection question is the larger point at play, even though male characters cannot flirt with Hunter’s male persona. They can, however, kiss Hunter before she dies.
This is an interesting question because, on appearances, the GFFA is heteronormative. There is a deep admiration between Hunter and Cipher Nine. “You were the best enemy I could ever ask for.”, the player can console. I’ve no answers about what deeper affections may or may not exist in the character as written but should we posit that Hunter loves Cipher Nine regardless of the PC’s gender (and I think there’s argument for this), we not enter into many questions about gender and sexual fluidity.
In the end, however, we cannot deny Hunter’s obvious yearning for the freedom of identity that Cipher Nine has. Hunter’s lived, literally, her entire life behind a fake face. The player gets to choose who they are, quite literally, from the start of their “life” in the gamespace. It is this yearning, this jealousy, and this pain that lends the scene such a strong transgender interpretive lens.
It is also of note to show that, in death, Hunter wants to make sure that she is remembered as who she really was. At least by someone. This is a fear that transpeople face. If I died today, for instance, I do not think my family would have the presence of mind to make sure my obituary didn’t misgender me. Now, this is certainly not something that Freed’s commenting on; Hunter just wants to die free. But our critical lens imbues this action with strong metaphorical power. (Consider, too, that the player can comment negatively on Hunter’s identity for even more intellectual fodder as an example.)
In the end, we must also examine the mere FtM presentation we find in Hunter. For what it is worth, I believe that Hunter has more reason to be read as MtF due to how strongly she seems to covet the female PC’s freedom of gender identity but we cannot deny that we also have a woman who presents male to those around her. For my part, I find the text somewhat unclear about how much the gender of her public persona was a choice and how much was something dictated by the Cabal but just the mere presence of such a strong allegorical image should not be brushed aside.
Hunter doesn’t quite qualify, I don’t think, as Star Wars’ first trans character. Not in a literal, transexual case. But she’s probably the closest thing that the setting is ever going to see. The relationship of Hunter to the player character (and arguably to the player themselves on a metatextual level) has a lot of allegorical power if viewed through an LGBTQ lens. I certainly can’t think of any other explicit example in Star Wars where someone is openly envious of gender expression.
With Hunter, we find a strong place to question gender in the GFFA, sexuality, and a whole lot more. And, honestly? I think I’ve barely scratched the surface of those issues here.