As the omegaverse trope becomes more popular, more people are curious about it. There are some surprisingly good questions—such as how gender functions within these fictional universes.
As with almost everything in omegaverse, there are many, many different answers to this question. A lot of how genders work in omegaverse depend on the writer and the work in question.
Sex vs. Gender in Omegaverse
The first thing to understand is that many writers using the omegaverse trope make a distinction between sex and gender. That often means a character is male or female—biologically. We hear a lot of talk about “male omegas,” for example, or “female alphas.”
Occasionally, though, the alpha/beta/omega designation is a sex marker. In fact, a lot of omegaverse writers refer to alpha, beta, and omega as secondary sex.
Wait, Aren’t Those the Omegaverse Genders?
Not necessarily! In fact, most omegaverse doesn’t assign alpha/beta/omega as “gender.”
Alpha/beta/omega are often considered sex or secondary sex. In some cases, when alpha, beta, or omega is considered sex, then there is no such thing as “male” or “female” in the fictional world. Instead, everyone will be an alpha, beta, or omega.
In these worlds, people often still have genders—usually ones that look familiar to us. While “male” and “female” don’t exist as meaningful categories, the idea of “man” and “woman” still work within the story.
When the alpha/beta/omega designation is a secondary sex, then the characters are still male or female. Their secondary sex is usually what determines their reproductive function—and their role in society.
Wait, Isn’t That Gender?
Again, not necessarily! The a/b/o-dynamics-as-secondary-sex world often still assigns reproductive function to being alpha, beta, or omega. Since that’s the case, it’s biological sex, not gender.
The secondary sex allows for things like mpreg—as you can have “male omegas” who get pregnant. It also paves the way for female alphas.
What Are the Omegaverse Genders Then?
Gender in omegaverse is often still marked by “man” and “woman.” This is especially common in stories where the a/b/o dynamics replace “male” and “female.”
In these stories, people might be alpha, beta, or omega. That determines their reproductive function, usually. Alphas perform a “masculine” role, while omegas perform a “feminine” role. Betas may be sterile, or incapable of reproducing. In other cases, they might just be “normal” humans, who still function under “male” and “female.”
Most often, characters still identify as one of the two binary genders of Western thought, no matter their sex. This is the case in Leta Blake’s Heat of Love universe, for example: there are alphas, betas, and omegas, but everyone uses he/him pronouns and identifies as “a man.” Women do not exist in this world.
Blake’s omegas are still masculinized to some degree, which might suggest that sex and gender are still bound up together here. Even though omegas can get pregnant and give birth, they also retain some “male” sex traits.
In my own Omega on Top series, gender and sex are somewhat more detached. Alpha and omega are the sex designations, but individuals are free to identify their gender how they like. Thus, an alpha can be a woman—and so can an omega. Similarly, some omegas identify as men, while others are women. There are nonbinary identities as well.
Alpha and Omega Sometimes Do the Work of Gender
In a lot of omegaverse stories, though, a/o designations have a gendered dimension. Since omegas can get pregnant and give birth, they often have more “feminine” roles—such as being caretakers. They’re considered naturally more submissive—another “feminine” trait.
Alphas, by contrast, are more masculine. They’re protective, strong, and often jealous.
In these stories, then, being an alpha or an omega also comes with the trappings of a social role. Many, many omegaverse fanfics hinge on the idea that being an omega comes with all sorts of restrictions—many of which are experienced by people who identify as women in the real world.
So, even though the omegaverse dynamics are actually sex designations, they often seem like they’re referring more to gender.
Omegaverse Is a Place to Explore Gender
I think this is one of the reasons omegaverse has proven to be so popular. It’s a space where we can think through gender identities and roles.
The previous example series demonstrate this, to some degree. The Heat of Love series has three “sex” designations, but there is only one gender in this world: man.
At the same time, though, traits that we normally think of as “masculine” and “feminine” devolve on two of the three sexes. Alphas become masculine; omegas become feminine.
Within the fictional world, this is highly problematic, in that it leads to a lot of abuse. Blake’s books in this series highlight how dangerous being an omega is, because they have high rates of mortality during pregnancy and childbirth. Yet alphas routinely endanger omegas, in order to beget children. Alpha children are more prized than omega children. The list goes on.
The Omega on Top series isn’t much different in this regard. In the first book, the main character is an omega who hides his “true” nature in order to get to the top of the corporate world. When he becomes pregnant and the truth comes out, he faces discrimination—and is ultimately fired from the company, despite his competence at his job. Prejudice against omegas is clearly engrained in the fabric of this society.
Asking What’s “Natural” and “Normal” about Gender in Omegaverse
How, then, does omegaverse become a place where we can question gender norms?
Precisely by pasting it on to something “made up.” Omegas are “female” in terms of their sex function, but some of them identify as men. Yet these men face what we’d term misogyny or sexism, much like many women today do.
If these characters are “men,” then why is it okay to treat them like this?
In some ways, it becomes easier to see why misogyny is ridiculous. We can also easily observe the harms—sometimes more easily than we see misogyny directed at “women” characters.
Omegaverse also asks us to think about how much we assume “nature” plays a role in gendered behavior. In the series I’ve pointed to, the omega characters deal with a lot of the same assumptions that are made about women in our own society.
Since many of these characters identify themselves as men or “male,” it gives us space to ask why we assume someone must be like this or like that, based on sex differences. The idea that all omegas (especially omega men) are naturally good caretakers seems ridiculous.
The idea that all people born with XX chromosomes are good caretakers is equally ludicrous. Yet we often don’t see it that way. Omegaverse allows us to hold up a mirror to our own society’s assumptions about sex and gender.
And from there, it gives us the space to start breaking it down.
How Do You Know If It’s Sex or Gender?
One of the most difficult things to tease out in omegaverse is whether the a/b/o dynamics are referring to sex or gender. As noted, most of the time, it’s not gender. A/b/o most often refers to biological sex.
That’s true even in cases where “male” and “female” are still meaningful categories for the universe. In most of those cases, we can think of a/b/o dynamics as adding a “secondary sex,” rather than new genders.
This is another way omegaverse can be subtly radical on the subject of gender. In the Omega on Top series, we have three sexes (alpha, beta, omega), and multiple gender identities that can be adopted by anyone—hence there being omega men and alpha women, as well as omega women and alpha men.
This is gender as it should function in our own world: a social construction about identity, not dictated by our chromosomes (or, more often, our genitalia). The series doesn’t question the idea that a biological omega can be “a man.”
Here in the real world, we do see questions like this come up—probably more often than we like. The fact that activists repeat the phrase “trans men are men, trans women are women” should tell you everything you need to know about how much Western society wants to push people into tidy boxes, where sex always equates gender.
But ideas of what it means to be “a man” or “a woman” aren’t culturally stable. They differ between cultures. Even in the same culture, the idea of “what makes a man” or “what makes a woman” can change over time. To see that in action, all you have to do is look at medieval English attitudes toward women, and contrast that with Victorian attitudes about women.
The underlying biology has not changed. The social understanding of “woman” or “man” changed. Therefore, we can argue that biology has relatively little to do with whether someone is a man or a woman. (And that’s reductive, even for people who have the “right” configuration of chromosomes to claim one identity or the other.)
Omegaverse isn’t just a mirror on our world then. It can also challenge what we know by inverting it or inflecting it. In turn, it gives us the space to write (and read) worlds where gender—and sex—function in a very different way.
That’s, I think, the most important work of fiction: to give us the space to imagine other worlds, other realities, other possibilities. And I think that’s one reason omegaverse has become more popular. It gives us a canvas where we can tease these things out, without necessarily getting anyone’s hackles up.
Most of the time, though, the understanding of omegaverse genders isn’t all that different from our own world. It’s how they function in relation to biology where the real radical work is being done.