Omegaverse is an incredibly popular—or at least somewhat common—worldbuilding trope these days. It’s moved from fanfiction circles to something more mainstream. Once relegated largely to the world of m/m and mpreg, it now accompanies almost any kind of couple. It’s often detached from any kind of preg at all. It’s even moved past its ties to werewolves and shifters to occur in almost any kind of setting imaginable.
Clearly, then, the a/b/o system is a flexible kind of worldbuilding. Yet authors often explore it in particular ways. The most popular set up is for little to no explanation at all. This is just how the world is, by and large. And for many readers, that’s enough.
I, for one, prefer some more bricks in my worldbuilding. It’s one of the reasons I often gravitate to omegaverse, I think—it does provide a good deal of flexibility. At the same time, we don’t always think through how this society came to be.
The Typical A/B/O Setup
Most often, omegaverse just is. In fics with supernatural elements like werewolves, authors hand-wave an explanation: this is how the species is. In a few cases, we get the slightly more in-depth “they evolved this way.”
When authors do dive deeper, though, they often reach for biological explanations. Some explain omegaverse as genetic evolution. In other cases, it’s the result of some catastrophic event in the history of humanity. If the story has supernatural elements, it usually allows for the supernatural creature—like vampires or werewolves—to evolve in the first place.
When catastrophe strikes, we often think of viruses (such as the one in Leta Blake’s novels) or of some sort of environmental catastrophe. If we’re thinking more mundane, we might look at genetic mutations moving through the population. Radiation exposure and more are plausible mechanisms. And even I play with the idea of genetic engineering—humans literally tampering with the genetic code with predictably bad outcomes.
We might also see scientific explanations such as parallel worlds with differential evolution. In one case, I’d explained “male omegas” as being a genetic hold-over from days long past, before “male” and “female” diverged.
A Softer Kind of Science
These biological explanations are relatively compelling. We might engineer our way into an a/b/o type dystopia. Climate change threatens sex ratios and fertility. Fragile X syndrome and the shortening length of the Y chromosome are concerns as well, in addition to chemicals being released from plastic.
Suffice to say we don’t need to look far to see that biological change is everywhere around us. In turn, we can easily imagine how that might give rise to any number of biological changes—including new reproductive systems.
Yet, as realistic as these scientific explanations seem, they overlook a much simpler kind of science. And actually, that science is a lot more plausible.
I’m talking about sociology. Sociology is the study of society. It looks at structure, culture, systems of power, and so on. It’s considered one of the “softer sciences,” like psychology and anthropology. You’ll find it in humanities departments rather than science departments. And we know it as “soft science” because it’s a heck of a lot harder to prove things utilizing the scientific method. So, like psychology and anthropology, sociology tends to be full of bias and conjecture. (Those aren’t necessarily bad things, but they often get in the way of proving fact.)
A sociological explanation for an omegaverse is really, really simple: a linguistic shift happened. Something in culture has shifted, and it’s changed the structure of society.
Why This Works
The sociological model for omegaverse suggests a shift in power or cultural mores. It suggests new groupings, rearrangements of society.
Think about women entering the workforce in the twentieth century. This movement rearranged and reshaped society as we know it. Changing family structures from the early part of the century to the latter made for new social challenges. The social world changed as well, with the advent of new technologies, paving the way for subcultures and countercultures.
Trying to explain a “new” reproductive system like a/b/o isn’t actually difficult when we take a sociological approach. Society reorganized itself.
That’s what happens in Boardroom Omega. We’re looking at a near-future that’s almost parallel to our own world. It’s easy to imagine that this could be our world in a few decades or a century or so.
So, how did we get to an omegaverse? Quite simply, there was a linguistic shift around biological sex. Instead of “male” and “female,” the terms are now “alpha” and “omega.” In turn, terms like “man” and “woman” are decoupled from biological sex; gender identity is now separate.
The Irrelevance of the Sex-Gender Axis in Boardroom Omega
That means that an “omega man” isn’t some kind of oxymoron (like he is in more traditional mpreg a/b/o). We have no trouble at all explaining “alpha women.”
The omegas we meet in the series are largely intersex; that is, their genitalia varies in terms of appearance. There’s no point in identifying someone based on their outward genitalia or even secondary sex characteristics. Instead, sex is tied specifically to gametes. Gender identity is separate from gametes. Thus, a man might be an omega or an alpha.
Increased rates of intersex individuals could be behind the shift to some degree. Perhaps climate disaster or some other catastrophe has caused humanity to evolve in this direction. In such a world, genitalia is an increasingly unreliable measuring tool for determining sex, let alone gender. Thus there is a change in criteria, a change in understanding, a change in language.
It doesn’t need to be quite that complex though. We could imagine that trans rights have been advanced in this society to the point that no one questions it. As noted, a man can easily be an omega (ova-producing) or an alpha (sperm-producing). Yet the term “trans man” does not apply to the omega; he is just a man. Similarly, an alpha woman would produce sperm; she would not be referred to as a trans woman.
Parenting practices have also shifted—children are not assigned a gender at birth, although parents know the biological sex of their child. Gender-neutral parenting appears to allow children to explore gender identity, independent of sex. It seems most people choose an identity “within the binary,” although some (like Perce’s sibling Morgan) remain outside of it.
Trying to Decouple Sex and Gender Is Difficult
That might make this omegaverse sound like a paradise for trans individuals. Transness is so commonplace that there is no word for it. There is no needed category for it. There are spaces that exist outside the binary and people, especially children, are allowed to explore their identities.
That said, clothing still is still gendered. Perce, who is a man, adopts menswear, as does Michael, his assistant. Omega woman Blanche wears women’s clothing.
There may be vestiges of the old divide in this space: Perce mentions he was forced to wear dresses as a child. As an adult, he circles back to them, adopting them even though he is a man. People might still associate “feminine” dress with omegas.
At the same time, no one troubles the idea that Jake wore dresses when he was a child. And at the end of the novel, the child Isolde wears dresses as well, despite having been identified as an alpha.
What does this mean? It’s support for the idea this is a near-future world. Changing society at this scale would take time—probably a lot of time. And thus the shift is slow and imperfect; “omega” and “alpha” might still retain some sense of “feminine” and “masculine,” even as they become separate from gender identity itself.
Thus we can see even though there are attempts at this, we still have confusion around, say, something like clothing. Some tasks are still assumed to belong to omegas, while some are more appropriate for alphas.
Nature vs. Nurture
This makes some sense, because the male/female, man/woman, masculine/feminine dichotomy has been in place for a very long time. We can compare to the degree of success feminism has had in society in the last 200 years. While gender norms shift over time, Western society in particular has been highly misogynistic since Ancient Greece.
We’re trying to change more than two millennia of cultural detritus. No wonder the pace seems so incremental, the progress almost non-existent at points.
At the core is an issue around nature versus nurture. Things have been this way, to some degree, for such a long time that it’s very difficult to sort out what is merely cultural mores and what is actually nature.
Avoiding the Pitfall of Essentialism
This isn’t to default back to biological essentialism. There is nothing in the human brain that suggests female humans are bad at math or logic or reasoning. The amygdala is not larger in the female brain than it is in the male brain, which would indicate that female humans are just naturally more emotional than male ones.
Yet there are sex differences between male and female brains, to some degree. Language processing centers, for example, tend to be larger in female brains. That indicates female humans tend to be better at language-oriented tasks.
Is this natural, though? Has the brain just evolved that way? One hypothesis says yes, absolutely. Since female humans are often responsible for caregiving—whether of children or elders—they have to communicate needs. The ability to use language effectively allows them to communicate and understand the needs of others. It can also allow for better conflict-resolution, something that’s important in a group.
Yet this could also be an effect of nurture. We’re looking at the brains of modern female humans. Is this language center enlargement a result of how we’re trained to operate in our day-to-day environment? Is it natural variation, or is there some cultural factor that encourages AFAB people to engage more with language? Does that “extra practice” then lead to enlargement of these centers in the brain?
Is It in the Genes?
We can go back to genetics itself for more evidence that female humans may have “evolved” a particular way in contrast to male humans. A common point of contrast is red-green colorblindness. This happens much more in male humans; it is an X-linked trait. Since male humans only have one X chromosome, if theirs is damaged on this trait, they will experience red-green colorblindness. Female humans, by contrast, have two X chromosomes. Even if one is damaged, the other will compensate. For a female human to be red-green colorblind, both X chromosomes must carry the defective gene.
Female humans have a protective factor here. Thus, they experience red-green colorblindness at lower rates than male humans. Scientists suggest that might be because female humans have traditionally done more of the “gathering” portion of hunting-and-gathering. If you need to see which berries are ripe, you need to be able to differentiate between red and green. Similarly, that differentiation might protect you from picking something poisonous and accidentally killing yourself or your family members.
Scientists have recently discovered, though, that ancient female humans also did their fair share of hunting. “Woman the Gatherer” may not be as true as we think it is. We might be all wet when it comes to why there are sex differences in incidence of red-green colorblindness. The hypothesis would seem to make sense, but we’ll have a hard time proving it.
Can We Prove Causation?
We can say there are differences in humans based upon biological sex. But it’s very difficult to understand why those differences might exist. We tend to apply our own cultural understandings: “women” are caretakers who stay home and tend the garden or forage for berries in the woods while the “men” are off hunting big game. (In all actual fact, most ancient humans ate a diet almost entirely made up of plants, which means the “men” probably did a lot of foraging and gathering too.)
In short: we segregate our own society on the basis of sex. We look back and impose sex-segregation on ancient societies. We then argue that it’s natural; after all, each sex must then be playing to their biological strengths and sex-segregation in our own society makes sense.
Some sex segregation does exist around reproductive function: female humans develop particular gametes and reproductive organs that allow them to carry a pregnancy to term. They also then feed the offspring for a time after via breast milk. Those functions happen because of biological differences between male and female humans.
The problem is we then assign all sorts of other tasks and traits upon the basis of those biological differences. This is gender. We argue female humans must naturally be more caring and emotional because they have to look after babies for nine-plus months. There’s really not much biological basis to back that up—some male humans are very caring, while some female humans are really shitty at it.
Boardroom Omega Is Not a Utopia
Of course, this omegaverse is not a utopia—if anything, it’s a dystopia. As much as gender has been decoupled from sex, there is still a divide between alphas and omegas. Thus, even though “man” and “woman” are no longer categories of oppression—and can freely be associated with either biological sex—oppression still exists on the basis of biology. Even though the terminology has changed, the society still treats XX-phenotype humans as lesser.
This is probable because the society is still under patriarchal capitalism. Both these systems thrive on oppression—particularly around biological sex as they attempt to coerce people into reproducing. Omegas or XX-phenotype humans thus face strictures around their “proper role.”
Society seems to have gone backwards as much as it’s moved forward on gender identity and the acceptance of what we’d call trans individuals. We see oppressive forces at work here: omegas are often assumed to be secretaries, for example. Perce himself isn’t “allowed” to be in the position he’s in, and there’s plenty of upset around his biological sex when it’s revealed. Perce comments on how much he naturally acts “like an alpha,” this being his personality. If he were alpha, he would be encouraged; since he is not, he suggests he’d be viewed as pathological.
Progress Moves at a Snail’s Pace
Society hasn’t come as far as we’d like to think. What may have happened here is some degree of success for the trans rights movement. Yet the old, creeping biological essentialism is still there, undergirding everything as patriarchy and capitalism team up to ensure control over people with uteruses and their reproduction.
We circle back to issues around this then: what of trans individuals who desire gender-affirming surgeries? In this society, with gender unhitched from biological sex, we might think the concept of “transness” would disappear entirely. But that’s unlikely; there are likely some individuals who might desire surgeries—an omega who wishes to be alpha and vice-versa. As much as we can see Perce as occupying that space, he never exhibits dysphoria about his body.
We do not see anyone who challenges that, yet we might imagine that there are still people who would, given the chance, change their bodies.
Thus, the question of transness is still potentially pertinent to this society, although it has changed shape and form. In turn, we might see that although there is progress, it may not be as much “progress” as we’d like to think.
And even as there may be more scientific explanations for why the language shift occurred, we can see that the answer to omegaverse worldbuilding is sometimes in the arena of the “soft” sciences, looking less at catastrophe or biological evolution. Instead, we’re looking at social evolution—which is far more likely than any other explanation.