|Trope · Genre|
|Synonyms:||Alpha/Omega, Alpha/Beta, A/B/O, A/O, ABO, AO, omegaverse|
|Related:||Knotting, Mpreg, BDSM AU, Dominance Hierarchy, Bonding, Heat, Mating, Werewolf|
|Tropes · Slash Tropes · Tropes by Fandom|
|Click here for related articles on Fanlore.|
Alpha/Beta/Omega or Alpha/Omega (occasionally Alpha/Beta) is a kink trope wherein some or all people have defined biological roles based on a hierarchical system, with the terms originating from animal behaviour research. There may be werewolf, knotting, or other animalistic elements involved, or the characters may be otherwise purely human.
Alphas are generally dominant and able to impregnate Omegas. Male Alphas usually have a knot when aroused.
Betas are subordinate to Alphas and may or may not be able to impregnate Omegas; in some fanworks Betas aren't present and the trope is known as Alpha/Omega, in others they take the role and functions of Omegas and Omegas aren't present. Betas are often presented as having "normal" human anatomy with none of the special attributes of Alphas or Omegas.
Omegas are generally lowest on the hierarchy (although in some fanworks Omegas are rare and prized). Male Omegas are self-lubricating and have the ability to become pregnant, sometimes referred to as being bred or mated. Lovers may form pair-bonds with a special connection with telepathic or empathetic qualities. Paired Alphas may be jealous and possessive of their mate, while the Omega may become submissive. Omegas and Alphas may go into heat and need to have sex; this may be the only time Omegas are fertile.
From these basic elements a wide variety of fanworks can be constructed. Some A/B/O works are straight-up porn, some explore social justice issues, some turn the trope on its head and makes alphas rather than omegas the disenfranchised group, etc. A/B/O is mainly known as a fic trope, but fanart is possible.
The trope originated in Supernatural fandom with a few very specific AU kink meme prompts for the J2 RPF ship. The first one was in May 2010 and has also been identified as the culprit responsible for the popularity of knotting in SPN fandom:
AU - Their world is just like ours...except...in their world there are two types of men. One is the alpha male, the other is the bitch male. Alpha males are like any ordinary guy with the exception of their cocks, they work just like dog cocks (the knot, tons of cum etc) The bitch male, is just an ordinary guy without the special cock.
I'd like to see Alpha male Jared, and Bitch male Jensen. Jensen is a snotty prude (think Lady from lady and the tramp) he may be a bitch male but he's not just going to let anybody take a go at his sweet little ass...until he meets Jared...then prudey little Jensen turns cock slut for Jared. Bonus points for J2 being OTP, Jensen was a virgin before Jared, and now that they met each other, it's for life.Completely up to you if mating happens just anywhere like in the middle of the sidewalk, in a park etc or on a more private level.
A similar prompt was posted to two different Supernatural anon memes in November 2010 and January 2011 and included the now standard alpha/beta/omega terminology:
There are three types of men, alpha males, beta males, and omega males. Alpha males are like any ordinary guy with the exception of their cocks, they work just like canines (the knot, tons of cum, strong breeders, etc) The beta male, is an ordinary guy without the special cock. Omega males are capable of child bearing and often called bitch males.
The prompt inspired several fills, including Heat (Between You and Me) by the_miss_lv (reposted in namespace 2010-11-28) and No Substitution by pianoforeplay (reposted 2011-01-27). See netweight's timeline outlining the evolution of similar prompts that led to the invention of the A/B/O genre. See also Knotting.
The trope was a natural extension of SPN's popular werewolf and knotting kinks. The concept of going into heat may also have been influenced by Dark Angel, where heat was canon and explored in the fic; there was likely overlap in the fandom due to Jensen Ackles being a cast member on both shows. "Anyway, for a while there, these fics were called Knotting AUs, which is how we know that Dark Angel was an influence, because there actually is a Blindfold fill where the author acknowledges that the 'J2, animal traits, knotting' fic they've written is a Dark Angel fusion."
The trope spread rapidly beyond SPN and J2, and by 2013 A/B/O was so saturated within fandom culture that Kristina Busse included the essay "Pon Farr, Mpreg, and the rise of the Omegaverse" in Anne Jamison's fanfiction academic anthology, Fic: Why Fanfiction Is Taking Over the World.
Similarities with Other Tropes
The A/B/O trope contains elements of tropes that appeared in many earlier fan stories. It is perhaps the combination of these elements that makes A/B/O unique.
Among those elements are MPREG, going into heat, a hierarchical biology-based class/caste system, and knotting. Other tropes dealing with "a basic biology they cannot deny" include pon farr, the Sime~Gen universe, and some elements of Sentinel AU.According to one commentator on FFA, A/B/O fic can be distinguished from earlier tropes by its combination of biological changes with a culture structured around the differentiated biology:
I always say it's the class system based on biological characteristiques and knotting, though other nonnies have pointed out that knotting isn't omnipresent in fic being written nowadays. Mpreg isn't so much needed as the possibility of mpreg - and someone may write fic where alphas and omegas are biological dead ends and thus remove the possibility of mpreg and thus remove that possibility and I, personally, would still consider it a/b/o as long as they'd be a differentiated social group. The same rational goes for heats, as long as other biological markers are in place to account for the biological part of the genre. It's the the articulation between those differences and the social [side] of things that is really the indispensable part.
A similar premise was used in Life from the Ashes in X-Files fandom in the 1990s. In that story, a virus biologically changes half of the male population into breeding partners who emit sex pheromones. Social differentiation between the biologically determined groups is not explicit, although by the end of the story, it is implied.
You also see many of the same elements in Indago, a Harry/Draco story from the skyehawke archive published in 2005. Draco, Harry, and Snape turn out to be magical creatures called Indago, who are genderless but fall into categories of Supero and subicio, who are extremely similar to alphas and omegas, except for knotting. There is still scenting, heat, self-lubrication, mpreg, use of Supero pheromones to control or placate subicios, and Superos establish a dominance hierarchy and use the terms alpha and beta.
In March 2011, the NCIS Gibbs/DiNozzo Centaur-fic Heat was posted by Kathana-grey, positing many of the same concepts used in early Omegaverse works but without the same terminology. Omegaverse elements included the submissive character going into heat, differentiated male biology, self-lubrication, fights for dominance, specific body postures to show submission, marathon sex, and a culture structured around differentiated biology.
There are also similarities with BDSM AUs, where the characters are Doms (sometimes called "Tops"), Subs, or (sometimes) Switches. Helenish's Stargate Atlantis BDSM AU Take Clothes Off As Directed offers a dissection of this trope -- as a Sub in the military, John is subjected to harassment and insubordination. Parallels can be drawn between the role of Subs in society and that of women, LGBT/queer people or minorities to examine prejudice and discrimination caused by "designationism."
The Ragnarok takes a similar approach of Alpha/Beta/Omega AUs in her Inception fic The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized, in which Arthur is heir to the ruler and keeps his Omega status a secret, as Omegas are not believed to be capable of serving in the military or making political decisions. In this universe, both Omegas and Alphas go into heat, and Alphas are more capable of restraint than Betas when faced with an Omega in heat. Female and male Alphas can impregnate male Omegas, and male Omegas need medical treatment to conceive.
In August 2013, destinationtoast created an analysis of Alpha/Beta/Omega fics based on how these fics are tagged on AO3. The statistics look at how A/B/O fic fits into the general categories on AO3 including how much is slash, femslash, or het, how it is rated, and how much is marked with the archive warning. The stats also explore popularity over time, common co-occurring tags, the relationship with mpreg, which fandoms produce the most A/B/O, and popularity within fandoms.
Destinationtoast concluded that:
- The majority (55.7%) of A/B/O fics are rated Explicit
- 90% of A/B/O fics are tagged M/M
- Knotting, mpreg, mating cycles/in heat, AU, dubcon, angst, and fluff are tags commonly found on A/B/O fic
- A/B/O has been gaining in popularity over time, but is still less than 1% of fics produced on AO3 each month
- The most A/B/O fic comes from the Sherlock (TV), Teen Wolf, The Avengers, Supernatural, and Supernatural RPF fandoms
- A/B/O Femslash & Het Ficathon (link)
- Works tagged Alpha/Beta/Omega Dynamics on AO3
- Inception: The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized by The Ragnarok - Arthur/Eames epic AU. (2011)
- Merlin: Lupercalia by novemberlite - Merlin/Arthur Canon AU. On his way to Camelot, Merlin goes into heat for the first time. Things progress from there, as they are wont to do. (2012)
- Supernatural RPF: A Fine Job of Bending All the Rules series by Chash - femslash, pairing Danneel/Genevieve. (2011)
- Supernatural RPF: Wait for It (originally written for Blindfold SPN) and companion piece Good Things Come by concernedlily - slash, pairing Jared/Jensen. semi-non-AU fic in which Jensen, an alpha, is cast to play Dean Winchester, a beta, and beta Jared is cast to play alpha character Sam Winchester, against common entertainment industry and societal conventions.
- Avengers (Marvel): Never is a Promise by manic_intent - Steve/Tony fic which reverses the usual trope; Alphas are an oppressed minority. (2012)
- One Direction/Union J RPF: Genesis by aimmyarrowshigh - Harry Styles/George Shelley fic exploring the effect of A/B/O dynamics on Western religion and subsequently on culture. A/B/O status is a heavy metaphor for misogyny and sexism. (2013-2014 WIP)
- One Direction: Tasty Little Treat by playniceliam - Louis Tomlinson/Liam Payne, Harry Styles/Zayn Malik, and Niall Horan/OFC fic that explores unique nesting dynamics and bonding and the affects one omega can have on all genders. It also features a character that transitions from a beta to an alpha. (2015-?)
- Bandom: Omegalomaniac by the_ragnarok - Pete/Patrick. Exploration of people who don’t fit neatly into the A/B/O ternary. (2015)
Omegaverse is really a fascinating fandom invention. 50% of it is totally problematic and reinforcing a lot of fucked up patriarchal, rape culture values. The other 50% is some of the most insightful, subversive social commentary I’ve ever read on gender identity/gender roles/queer oppression.
honestly im so tired of how a/b/o is used to enforce creepy-ass heteronormativity thats already at full blast with Popular Yaoi Ships… like wow, how fuckin original, the less masculine, submissive of the two is the Lesser Male meant to be a breeding factory, and often destined to be subjected to a forced, downright rapey relationship. you did a real good job going beyond our expectations there, real genre breaking
i really have no love for the fact that an au template that hinges on rape/dubcon fetishism and transphobia/cissexism out of ignorance happens to be The Most prevalent thing i have to see when i just want to jerk off
- Omegaverse Genetics; archive link by azriona (March 2013)
- Omegaverse Genetics - One Theory; archive link, by Diana Williams (April 2013)
- Omegaverse: Possible overreaction…..I get angry sometimes; reference link by pilgrimkitty on tumblr, (June 2013)
- The nonnies made them do it! [Fannish history. SPN. A/B/O]; Wayback copy; Webcitation copy by netweight (October 2013)
- The nonnies made them do it! - Annexes; Wayback copy;Webcitation copy by netweight (October 2013)
- Alphas, Betas, Omegas: A Primer, Archived version by norabombay on AO3 (last updated September 2015)
- For example, SPN digital art by diminuel on tumblr (safe for work)
- According to an anon on fail_fandomanon: 2016-03-02 comment.
- Request: Jensen/Jared - AU Doggy style, bottom Jensen comment in spnkink_meme, posted 2010-05-17.
- I ain't no lady, but you'd be the tramp. (dog-like j2), posted to cfamiliaris livejournal community on 2010-07-24.
- The prompt, Request- J2- AnimalTraits, Claiming, Knotting, DomJared, SubJensen, Impregnation was posted at spnkink_meme on November 8, 2010 and received one fill, "Heat" by miss_lv. The same prompt was later posted at blindfold_spn on January 10, 2011 (now locked).
- See The nonnies made them do it! (Fannish history. SPN. A/B/O).
- fail_fandomanon, Archived version
- The story was a response to Coming Home by Xanthe where these characterizations didn't impact the social standing of the characters or the kind of jobs they could take; that was criticized as not realistic. (see comments to the original LJ post of Take Clothes Off As Directed)
- It’s time for fandom stats: Omegaverse edition! by destinationtoast, posted to tumblr 25 August 2013. archived.
- Okay you know that one fic trope in which a character magically wakes up in a differently sexed body? dated July 24, 2014.
- honestly im so tired of how a/b/o is used to enforce creepy-ass heteronormativity, Lewdcore/Roman, Sept 7 2015