One of the most fascinating tropes to formalize in the last decade or so is the omegaverse. This form of worldbuilding has become incredibly popular in some circles. Even if it’s still niche, there are many people who read and enjoy omegaverse stories.
I’ve argued that one of the reasons omegaverse is so popular is its willingness to play with gender and sex. In some ways, you could argue omegaverse trope is queer, because of its habit of taking cisgender men and “feminizing” them.
So, what does omegaverse biology look like? What’s a “secondary gender” or “secondary sex,” and what, exactly, is an omega in omegaverse anyway.
Biology, but Make It Queer
By and large, omegaverse started as an excuse to put a supposedly cisgender male character into “heat.”
That shares similarities with tropes like sex pollen and fuck-or-die. In these tropes, the main characters—regardless of sex or gender—are overtaken by an inexplicable urge to mate.
This happens in both male and female animals. In male animals, the term is musk or rut. In female animals, we call it estrus or heat.
More of us are familiar with the idea of an animal “going into heat.” Female animals, as they get close to ovulation, become increasingly receptive to sexual advances. We might see female animals who are normally hostile to male animals trying to mount them tolerate this behavior.
We also see other sexual behaviors from female animals in estrus. Female porcupines, for example, will mount sticks and try to derive sexual gratification from self-stimulation. Other female animals masturbate as well. There’s a pick-up in this kind of behavior as an animal moves closer to their estrus period.
The Mating Habits of Werewolves
Omegaverse is sometimes called “wolf kink porn.” It didn’t get that nickname by accident: the trope is associated with werewolves. Female wolves undergo estrus periods, or “go into heat.” Like many other mammals, wolves have a “mating period.” Unlike humans, who are fertile at any point during the year, most animals go through a mating cycle. The “mating season” is usually timed so the young are born at an optimal point.
For wolves, pups are born in the spring. That allows them all spring, summer, and fall to grow and develop. Food is usually easier to come by during the spring and summer, ensuring pups are fed well enough to grow. There’s also enough game for them to practice and hone their hunting skills.
That means wolves usually mate in the fall or winter. Thus, the females “go into heat” about once per year.
In creating omegaverse, we have some folks pondering, “What if werewolves had the mating habits of wolves?”
In essence, this means that these werewolves would have intensive heat periods that caused them to act in overtly sexual ways.
Obviously, this is a good trope to employ if you want to write some smutty fanfic. Little wonder we see omegaverse formalizing in the realm of fandom.
Yet one little oddity remains: in many cases, omegaverse biology means cisgender men are the ones “going into heat.”
What Is an Omega?
Exactly how omegas operate in omegaverse varies from story to story, writer to writer. Some writers are content to write their cisgender male werewolves as “going into heat.”
We could argue this is just a misnomer. As I mentioned, male animals often go into musk or rut, which is a similar idea to heat. That is, the animals become increasingly horny and willing to mate.
So, when a fanfic writer says a cisgender dude is “in heat,” they could just mean rut or musk. They’re just using the more familiar (if inaccurate) term.
Feminization in Omegaverse Biology
This argument becomes less convincing when we encounter the omega. An omega might still be a “cisgender” male, but he’s undergone feminization in a few ways. When the writer says this fellow is going into heat, they meant heat.
Omegas in omegaverse are often feminized in other ways, beyond simply going into heat. They may be subservient or servile. Alphas might consider them helpless and in need of protection.
In more extreme cases, we may see omegas being treated similar to women in the “real world.” They may be relegated to roles as homemakers, spouses, or even the caretakers of children. They may not be allowed to hold jobs and are instead expected to be dependent on “alphas.” There might even be restrictions on who they can interact with and when.
All of that is the trappings of gender, the social construction of roles. Usually, gender roles are constructed on the lines of biological sex. “Woman” maps onto female bodies, while “man” maps to male bodies. Yet, because gender is a construct, there’s nothing inherent in the biology that, say, makes women naturally better caretakers. In fact, some female humans are incredibly bad at taking care of other people, and some are highly aggressive. Conversely, some male humans are more subservient and nurturing.
Omegaverse Biology Exposes Gender Constructions
In Western society, the connection between sex and gender is simply assumed. If someone is assigned female at birth, then it feels “natural” and “normal” to assume that person is a girl. We then assign traits to this individual: she is likely kind and caring, and she probably loves children. She might be very emotional. We might even assume she’ll struggle with subjects like math and science.
There is literally nothing in our DNA that says any of that is true. You can have an AFAB person who is brilliant at math, who struggles to make friends, and who doesn’t enjoy caregiving activities at all. This person might be highly competitive or athletic. She will struggle to “fit in” to the mold of “femininity” that society forces on her.
Omegaverse lays this bare for us when we start talking about secondary genders and alphas, betas, and omegas.
In this version of omegaverse, people still have “primary” sex assignations: they’re male or female. It’s the secondary sex that determines their role in society or their gender. If you’re alpha, you’re very masculine; if you’re omega, you’re likely more feminine.
Thus, you can have a “male omega,” a cisgender male who is often (hyper-)feminized.
This conflicts with the connection between gender and sex: “male” no longer equates with masculine. This is especially true if “female” no longer exists. The secondary gender of “omega” takes over the feminized space, even when omegas and alphas alike are male.
Queering Bodies with Omegaverse Biology
This naturally leads to some very interesting questions about how exactly biology is working in omegaverse and how we determine gender using sex.
If everyone is a man, but we have different “types” of men, then what actually makes a man? The identity of “man” becomes completely divorced from the idea of “male.”
When we start talking about the “male omega,” the same thing happens: the idea of male becomes divorced from masculinity. In fact, the “male omega” is feminine.
In some cases, the “male omega” might even be what we’d classify as “female.” When we get into the realm of mpreg, we often encounter cisgender “male” omegas who have functioning ovaries and wombs.
That then begs a few questions: are these guys really “male”? Are they really “men”?
By conventional biology, absolutely not. The “male” omega who can get pregnant and give birth is, by definition, female or perhaps intersex. Or maybe they’re more like a snail: a hermaphrodite.
But by omegaverse biology, yes, he is still “male,” even as he wanders over this line in the sand.
The Category of Sex Is Meaningless
As we begin to break this down, we can see that “sex” is not a useful category. Male and female don’t matter in omegaverse. At all. Not only are they completely divorced from gender identity, but they’re completely divorced from reproductive function as well.
The “secondary gender” (or “secondary sex”) of alpha, beta, and omega become the defining factors then. Alpha determines one’s role in reproduction, just as omega does—even if both alpha and omega identify themselves as “male” or “men.”
If we keep going down this line, then, we could end up at the conclusion that virtually everyone in an omegaverse story is trans. A female alpha or “alpha woman” might be what we’d call a trans woman, while our “male omega” or “omega man” is a trans man.
Thus, without even trying, omegaverse biology almost inevitably begins queering bodies.
Creating Space to Explore the Breakdown of Binaries
This is not a bad thing. Omegaverse, as much as it’s “wolf kink porn,” is creating a space where we can explode Westernized notions of sex and gender binaries.
If you can have omega men and alpha women in omegaverse, then, as I said, you might simply be looking at a lot of trans people. The difference is the world doesn’t care to label them that way. That is, it’s so normalized and accepted that nobody really cares or asks. Being a man or woman isn’t important; being male or female isn’t important. Being alpha, beta, or omega is what matters.
Of course, some omegaverse also hardwires in its biology. Biology might sometimes be presented as “fate” in omegaverse. When this happens, we’re opening a space to explore misogyny. Omegas are often treated in a way that parallels the treatment of women in the real world. This begs us to ask questions: why do we treat women as inferior? It wouldn’t be okay to treat “men” like this. Most omegaverse stories push back against this kind of treatment, viewing it as distinctly dystopian.
What the Heck Is a “Secondary Gender” in A/B/O Dynamics?
In omegaverse biology, some people use the term secondary gender (or, more accurately, secondary sex) to refer to the designation of “alpha,” “beta,” or “omega.”
We’re not quite ready to give up on binary labels like male and female, or man and woman. Yet the a/b/o system forces us to think outside of those binaries. As I pointed out, once we introduced a/b/o dynamics, male and female stop mattering. And they become divorced from identities like “man” and “woman”—which wraps back into all kinds of gender queerness.
Basically, a/b/o dynamics explode the myth of binary sexes and binary genders.
What does matter then is the a/b/o designation. Lots of writers like to play with this. As a “secondary sex,” one’s a/b/o status may not manifest immediately. It may not be known from the time of birth. In fact, a lot of omegaverse stories function on the idea that one will “present” as alpha, omega, or beta around the time of puberty.
A Real World Parallel to Omegaverse Biology
This is similar to many intersex conditions, which aren’t always immediately observable. Many of them become more obvious when the individual reaches puberty.
This kind of “revelation” has all sorts of implications for how children are raised, as well as their own expectations. Some children might hope to be alphas or omegas. They will be disappointed when they’re revealed to be something other than what they want. Some parents might assume a child is an alpha and raise them “as alpha,” only to have the child present as omega or beta later on.
In any case, omegaverse biology is again exploring what lies beyond the usual binary thinking. It asks us, “What if a binary wasn’t normal, but a trine instead?” With betas, it might ask us to think about a “third gender” or even a “third sex.” It may ask us to think about a sexuality: are betas capable of reproduction and, if not, do they have any interest in sex? Maybe they have weaker reproductive drives and less interest in sex.
No matter how you slice it, omegaverse biology takes our understanding of what’s “normal” and what’s not and deconstructs it, on several different levels. In turn, it allows us a space to explore what a queerer understanding of biology might look like.