Alpha/Beta/Omega

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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
See Also:
Tropes · Slash Tropes · Tropes by Fandom
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Alpha/Beta/Omega or Alpha/Omega (occasionally Alpha/Beta) is a kink trope where 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.

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.

History

The trope originated in Supernatural fandom with a few very specific AU kink meme prompts for the J2 RPF ship. The first one[1] 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.[2]

In response, tehdirtiestsock posted "I ain't no lady, but you'd be the tramp" aka Tramp!Verse in July and August 2010.[3]

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.[4]

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.[5] 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. "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."[1]

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 the trope unique.

Among those elements are MPREG, going into heat, a hierarchical biological based class/caste system, and knotting.

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."[6]

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.

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[7] -- 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.

Statistics

Graph by destinationtoast showing the increasing popularity of omegaverse on AO3 over time

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.

The conclusions (in full) included that:

Example Fanworks

Reactions/Reviews

[more examples are needed]

"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."[8]

Similar Tropes

Other tropes dealing with "a basic biology they cannot deny":

Resources/Meta/Further Reading

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 According to an anon on fail_fandomanon: 2016-03-02 comment.
  2. Request: Jensen/Jared - AU Doggy style, bottom Jensen comment in spnkink_meme, posted 2010-05-17.
  3. I ain't no lady, but you'd be the tramp. (dog-like j2), posted to cfamiliaris livejournal community on 2010-07-24.
  4. 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).
  5. See The nonnies made them do it! (Fannish history. SPN. A/B/O).
  6. fail_fandomanon, Archived version
  7. 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)
  8. Okay you know that one fic trope in which a character magically wakes up in a differently sexed body? dated July 24, 2014.
  9. reference link.
  10. Wayback copy; Webcitation copy.
  11. Wayback copy;Webcitation copy.