#1 – The Repsondents [on tumblr]
#2 – Discovering slash fanfic [on tumblr]
#3 – Slash: the Good, the Bad, and the Subversive [on tumblr]
#4 – Is slash subversive? [on tumblr]
#5 – Smut, kinks, squicks, and the plot/porn ratio [on tumblr]
#6 – Omegaverse, vol I [on tumblr]
After a brief introduction to Omegaverse and my survey participants’ general attitude towards the genre (see #6), it’s time to get controversial – again!
Some quotes have already pointed towards reasons this trope can polarise as powerfully as it does. In this final part I’d like to take a closer look at what my participants cited when asked about what they like and dislike about this trope, which frequently surpasses simple squicks and kinks and touches topics like sexism, homo- and transphobia, to name but a few.
I’m going to walk you through the most central aspects my respondents highlighted, both praise and critique. Here is what awaits you:
- Porn-related aspects
- Romance and Bonding
- Characterisation issues
- Heats, biology, and loss of control
- Non-con, dub-con aspects
- Omegaverse as transphobic
- Gender dynamics – is Omegaverse sexist or subversive? Both?
- Part I: Critical voices
- Interlude: Conflicting feelings
- Part II: Positive voices
The final item on that list will be the most extensive, as well as controversial. Opinions differ, and all views have a lot of interesting points to contribute to the discourse on Omegaverse.
Before I start, a few more general things: The following is a summary of my respondents’ replies to three questions, namely if A/B/O was love at first sight, what they like best about the genre, and what they like least.
Not everyone has as passionate views about Omegaverse, mind you. Alice (female, straight, 25-30, UK) says, “I’m… ambivalent. I don’t hate it with a passion, I find it weird, but it’s no weirder than some of the other fanfic phenomenons that have cropped up before.”
As seen in #6, some respondents have grown bored with the trope because, in their eyes, it regurgitates the same plot/porn ideas over and over again. Serafina (female, heterodemisexual, 18-25, USA) disagrees: “When omega verse first came about it spread through different fandoms like wildfire. Seeing each pairings dynamic within the verse was very interesting. As time grew people would switch up the verse and change or add certain parts to make it new again. I found it to be a very diverse tag within fandom fanfiction.” As Tia (female, grey-a, 15-18, USA) puts it, “… omegaverse is such a complex concept that my over imaginative writer’s heart would never let me not love it. Each author worldbuilds it in a different way.”
To set the mood for the following points, let’s start with one reply to “Name your favourite thing about Omegaverse”, which covers most points that are going to prove to be a lot more controversial than a first glance might suggest:
“Where do I start? Everything that applies to slash applies doubly to Omegaverse. The power dynamics and how they are balanced out. The projection of female issues on the Omega – like pregnancy, bodily cycles, being penetrated, being (in many fics) seen as “inferior” in strength or social status. The eroticism that stems from the pure need of heat. The Alpha as the ideal male – protective, fierce yet caring, driven mad by his desire for the Omega, and ultimately a provider for his family. I could go on…” (merlenhiver, female, 30-40, Germany)
- Porn-related aspects
No one will deny that A/B/O is heavily reliant on porn. Not only that, it’s also based on certain sexual phenomena only found in Omegaverse (okay, and werewolf/creature fics), like heat cycles, knotting, and self-lubricating anuses. Fyi, the latter took me a long time to wrap my head around.
Still, lots of readers love the smut. Luna (female, bi, 18-25, Finland) enjoys the wild and animalistic nature of A/B/O, calls it “a total holiday from everyday life” where rules differ. Alex Reid (genderqueer, they/them, greyromantic bisexual, 18-25, Serbia) likes that “everything is wet and messy, lots of come and size kink”. Different rules include some animalistic diction, which can be a squick for some. Similarly, some see Omegaverse as some form of bestiality – and either like or dislike that.
Regardless of whether you enjoy or hate the smutty particularities, Omegaverse “can be heavily kinkshamed,” Kady (genderqueer, androsexual, 25-30, USA) explains. “And given the gender issues that I’ve realized why I relate to it more easily, I feel a lot more personally attacked by the kinkshaming.”
- Romance and Bonding
Several respondents said they love the way A/B/O produces deep emotional connections within a pairing. For all the smut, it is very romantic. “I love the concept of having a mate,” says Ambrosia (female, straight, 25-30, USA). “I enjoy the protective instincts of a loving, mated Alpha.”
“Also I looove the idea of true mates/soul mates like knowing by someone’s scent that you’re meant to be together, bonding for life (and just bonding in general), in some fics true mates can telepathically connect too which is great. all the destined to be together shit is fab.” (erin, female, pansexual, 18-25, UK)
“knotting: the fact that they have to post-coital cuddle. They’re still connected, they talk, the emotional back and forth that pure sex often lacks.” (missingnolovefic, female, queer, 18-25, Germany)
Consequently, when the possibly highly romantic trope of bonding is drained of its consensual nature, it can become a squick, as is the case for Mae (female, asexual, demiromantic, 15-18, USA): “Forced Bondings are the literal worse. The concept of heats, I can stomach. Knotting? Great. Mpreg? Even better. But I typically refuse to read fics, even for my OTPs, if one of them is forced into the bond. It’s a little different for arranged bondings between families where they rebel together and manage to fall for one another in the process, but full-on forced bonding is a no-go.”
“Mpreg, it’s just so weird. Like do they give birth through their butts?” (beejohnlocked, female, bi, 30-40, USA)
I’m sure a lot of fanfic readers empathise with her sentiment. Male pregnancy used to be my one major squick, and only when one of my favourite authors wrote the trope did I begin to warm up to it (still not something I seek out, though, even though kid fics are my guilty pleasure).
You can find mpreg anywhere, aided by magic or supernatural means, or simply left unexplained. Since a common cornerstone of this genre is that Omegas are able to bear children, A/B/O fics are fuller of mpreg than other tropes. Dalia (female, straight, 25-30, USA) values the genre because it gives an in-world explanation for male pregnancy. NothingToSeeHere (female, asexual/hetero-romantic, 40-50, USA) loves the egalitarian effect: “Frankly, my favorite thing is that it allows same-sex couples to biologically become parents. I wish all couples, regardless of sex and gender, would be able to choose to start a family easily and naturally and have kids that are a combination of both of their parents.”
Not everyone likes mpreg – it was one of the most frequently named squicks in an earlier section of my survey – as the following quotes will illustrate. All are in reply to “Name your least favourite thing about Omegaverse” and tie into other items on this list as well:
“This is not specifically about omegaverse itself, but when people say mpreg, they automatically think of omegaverse. The character could be trans or intersex or genderfluid. You never know.” (Devon, genderfluid, pansexual, 15-18, USA)
“Omegas portrayed as baby making machines” (Tiggs, female, gay, 30-40, USA)
“Simply put, mpreg. It’s not a squick for me, but I’m not crazy about it, and often short fics follow the cliché structure of they meet – they bond – they have sex – they have a baby. It’s a bit too Cinderella for me, too quick and not very satisfying, emotionally speaking. (…) Ah, and I’m also not sure I’m crazy about this trend I’ve seen around of calling the babies “pups” and such and using wolf/dog terminology. I see where it comes from, but I don’t really buy why a human omegaverse society would evolve like this.” (Lou, female, panromantic/grey-a, 18-25, France)
“M-preg. Nothing wrong about it but I don’t like how children affect the stories. I like it when the characters remain on the same level no matter if they’re alphas or omegas. Pregnancy almost always means tht one of the character will be seen as weaker or more delicate. It’s something I struggle with in real life, how women are seen as gentle, delicate creatures just because of their natural abilities. So finding the same kind of disparity in a fic is disappointing for me.” (Mélissa, female, pansexual/panromantic, 25-30, France)
“MPREG, it’s not really a huge squick, but sometimes I wish we didn’t have to go there. We could just have male Omegas because why not, none of it makes sense anyhow so there doesn’t have to be any logic in having Omegas who don’t get pregnant. What I dislike more than MPREG though is infantilizing or feminizing omegas way too much.” (M, female, currently 95% straight, with past same sex relationship, 25-30, Finland)
- Characterisation issues
K.H.’s reply (female, demisexual, 18-25, USA) summarises the spirit of this aspect concisely: “I hate when a character’s personality is flipped on it’s head to fit the gendered roles of Alpha and Omega.”
That’s not always the case, of course, yet several respondents complained that it does happen. Here are two more quotes on how the genre affects the depiction of characters, both from the Sherlock fandom:
“(…) I also like the changes in power dynamics in pairings and how characters sometimes can be written as accepting of them and sometimes resist them. I mostly read Omegaverse in the Sherlock fandom and either Sherlock or John (both very strong, dominant characters) resisting the social and sometimes the physical stereotypes of the Omega is one of my favorite type of story.” (Ishtar, female, straight, 50+, USA)
“Well, I only have experience with “The Gilded Cage” so far. The exploration of biological determination and social oppression is fascinating in this context as well as what makes weak and strong. To make Sherlock, a strong character we clearly admire and root for, an Omega, with all of the distressing biological imperatives and legal unpersonhood just makes these issues resonate even more. It is also fascinating to witness John’s character, a morally upstanding and compassionate individual, be so distressed to be at the mercy of biology as well, and to see his gradual education of the issues concerning Omega. I know all stories have a different biology/world, but I really like the one Beautifulfiction has created.” (Myladylyssa, female, lesbian, 30-40, USA)
Note: I’ve included the fic rec because the number of times a respondent has praised this particular fic is in the double digits.
- Heats, biology, and loss of control
Alphas and Omegas often are slaves to their biology. Sometimes there is actual slavery inside a fic’s world, with Omegas usually occupying the lowest social strata, which some of my respondents love as a trope and other hate with a passion.
It’s similar when it comes to the biological aspect of A/B/O and the way these stories present biology as something inescapably deterministic.
“I love the way desire can be so entirely overwhelming. I like it when this is presented in a sort of “coming of age” way instead of as more–rapey.” (Iwantthatcoat, agender, she/they, biromantic grey asexual, 40-50, USA)
“It was love at first sight for me. I [like] being able to express desire in a very primal way and the Omegaverse can be a good example of that.” (Soraya Merced , female, bi, 18-25, Puerto Rico)
Several others were a lot less enthusiastic about this, especially with the way certain authors will portray Omegas (and/or Alphas) as mindless during heats, ruts, or sex in general.
“I did try to appreciate it, I made a point of reading a couple fics from different fandoms for a while. But. The problem I have with Omegaverse is the, as I like to call it, ‘biological inevitability’. A/B/O has always left me with a bad taste in my mouth because I feel as if there is no choice in it, no free will. It’s all biology. I kinda feel the same about the whole soulmates trope. Love, for me, is choice, every day. I have to choose to love someone and to let that love influence who I am as a person. The moment biology steps in and dictates not only a character’s sex life but also their place in society based on their sexuality, the whole concept becomes abhorrent to me. Sorry.” (Lena, female, demisexual/biromantic, 18-25, Germany)
“I tried really hard to like it, but I want to read about human beings — we are ruled by our minds mostly and as such, Omegaverse fics just are not relate-able in any sense for me. There’s a lot of lazy writing that goes on in it as well, not helped by the fact that since most everyone is written as an animal who cannot control their desires, the smut takes precedence over the actual writing.” (Dan, male, 25-30, Philippines)
“I dislike the whole concept of [A/B/O]. I mean, sure there are parallels to ways of life in the real world where there are alpha people who kind of have the power over others, but that’s because it’s in different cultures, not on a biological level. And my instinct tells me it’s so basically wrong that people/persons can be reduced to animalistic aspects like it’s drawn out in the omegaverse.” (Laura, female, straight, 18-25, Germany)
Like Laura, Beccy (female, straight, 15-30, UK) also named “The use of a so-called “alpha voice” as a means of controlling every area of an omega’s life” as their least favourite aspect of Omegaverse.
- Non-con, dub-con aspects
The nature of heats and the biological component to Omegaverse frequently lead to a blurring of boundaries between consensual and non-consensual sexual situations. The crux of the matter is: Can an Omega consent while in heat?
Opinions on this vary; different fics deal with this in different way – or not at all, in some cases. A/B/O fics run the risk of glossing over the issue of consent, which a majority of my survey participants found highly problematic.
“[Omegaverse] squicked me out. It seems a bit non-con to me in places and I’m really really uncomfortable with huge power dynamics in romantic relationships.” (Torin, female, lesbian, 18-25, Isle of Man)
“How dubcon is can get sometimes. The “acceptance” of rape as a way to advance the story, especially in stories where the omega is raped and the alpha is immediately able to then “cure” the omega with sex.” (courtney k., female, straight, 18-25, USA)
“The rape aspect of heat. I admit to reading those fics as well sometimes when the mood strikes, but only if its addressed as non-con. Putting a “biology” stamp on it and shrugging the rape away as “true love” gets too close to very real problems in our world and should not be idolized as such.” (missingnolovefic, female, queer, 18-25, Germany)
“there’s also huge amounts of consent issues surrounding the alpha/omega/beta dynamics – people don’t seem to understand what consent is and how it’s given, so they end up writing rape scenes and passing it off as either dubious consent or completely normal. I was horrified by how unchallenged some of the conventions were within the omegaverse sub-fandom.” (nondeducible, female, lesbian, 25-30, Poland)
- Omegaverse as transphobic
When asked about their favourite part about Omegaverse, ren (male, 18-25, USA) wrote: “since fandoms refuse to write trans characters I like being able to hc [headcanon] characters as trans while reading a/b/o”. Nondeducible from above says “the idea of omegaverse is inherently transphobic – instead of “ass babies” why not write about trans or intersex people who do exist in real life.”
Curiously, other respondents see this genre exactly the other way around:
“… I understood why [Omegaverse] would be something someone would like if they were transgender/ didn’t fit into gender norms and was looking for a different way to look at gender— a universe that had three instead of two. I tried reading a couple of things, but I didn’t like it. Then again, I am the epitome of the gender I was assigned at birth so maybe I’m just not the right audience for this.” (yowwzahh, female, 18-25, USA)
“This sounds so weak- ‘I read playboy for the articles’ – but I really am most into the world building and reimagination of gender and society. Some of my fave a/o is teen rated. I love the idea of having more male characters who have uteruses- as many transmen do in reality- and of playing with our gendered perceptions and expectations about characters and narrative and history.” (Bekah, nonbinary, she/her, queer, 18-25, USA)
“As transphobic as it is, I also enjoy putting a male character in a female position in society because I can visualize, empathize with that situation more.” (missingnolovefic, female, queer, 18-25, Germany)
My initial reaction to “Omegaverse is inherently transphobic” was one of confusion and denial. Then again, I’m cis female. Unfortunately, the one trans male participant of my survey doesn’t read Omegaverse (he does cite genderbending as a squick, though), so I cannot quote his opinion on the matter.
I did some research since it thoroughly confused me. What I found was this reply to an anon question by johnlocktentacles: “I guess the biggest problem for me, personally, is that there are a lot of folks out there who just loooove to read and write omegaverse fics, but won’t give fics with trans characters the time of day, and that’s shitty. If you go search for johnlock omegaverse fics, you’ll find plenty of reading options, but if you search for johnlock fics where one or both of them is trans, you get a tiny fraction of the number of results. to me, what that says is that people want to fetishize characteristics of certain trans people without actually acknowledging that trans people exist. People would rather invent an entirely new fictional gender structure than have trans characters.”
So, the problem seems to be – as ren points out in his quote above – that there simply aren’t enough fics featuring trans characters, and since Omgaverse fics that have male Omegas deal with, basically, men with uteruses who can give birth, the popularity of A/B/O is grating in light of the little interest in trans characters outside this genre.
Which, yeah, is shitty. The question remains, however: If people want to read about trans characters, why are there so few fics featuring them?
For now, onward to the final aspect of this analysis. Missingnolovefic from above, who came to Omegaverse for the way it puts men in a female social position which she can empathise with, continues that she “stayed for the complicated, original world-building the better authors work in. It turns into a sort of sci fi biology and social structure and politics and that’s amazing to watch tbh.”
This is a good transition to the fundamental question my participants debated, namely whether Omegaverse is sexist/homo-/transphobic, or actually subversive and an incredibly reflective commentary on society…
Hint: I say it’s both.
- Gender dynamics – is Omegaverse sexist or subversive? Both?
As with slash, the critical potential of A/B/O stories is a polarising issue. Some answer this with an emphatic YES, others with an equally emphatic HELL NO.
I personally see fanfiction as a subversive act with subversive potential. Just like slash can be written in a way that it questions heteronormativity and prevailing assumptions or stereotypes, Omegaverse is endowed with the same possibilities. However, it’s also possible that authors reproduce misogyny in their stories, reinscribing heteronormative narratives onto the Alpha/Omega binary. For example, the strong Alpha protects the weaker, submissive Omega, thus mirroring conventional romance plots that have women being rescued and men being tough, etc.
Harking back to merlenhiver’s quote from the introduction, we can see heteronormative notions expressed in her praise of “The Alpha as the ideal male – protective, fierce yet caring, driven mad by his desire for the Omega, and ultimately a provider for his family.”
Some will see this dynamic as a stereotypical reproduction of male/female gender roles, with the man as the earner and the female as the carer. Another perspective might be one to view an Alpha’s caring nature and their more sensitive side as “new masculinity” as opposed to ‘tough’, ‘unfeeling’ men from the past. I have read fics that have Alphas struggle with society’s expectations of them as emotionally stoic and macho, with Omegas valuing their mate because he is “not like the other Alphas/like the stereotypical Alpha”. I’ve also read stories in which the Omega finds themselves appreciating ‘classic’ Alpha trades – which is often explained by their biological wiring.
Side note to consider: Romance novels featuring strong, heroic knights to the rescue of damsels in distress have also been called misogynistic. However, it’s important to note that erotic literature expresses fantasies, not a person’s political views. The things that arouse us – or not – aren’t logical or follow socio-political discourses. Thus, a reader can oppose unfair gender dynamics and at the same time appreciate “Alpha to the rescue” type Omegaverse plots.
Simply put: whether or not an A/B/O fic reflects, comments, or criticises gender dynamics depends on the individual fic, as well as the reader’s take on the issues portrayed.
PART I: Critical Voices
Not all respondents concede that this depends on the fic. K (they/them, gay, 15-18, USA) dislikes A/B/O “because it seems to just be a way to squish queer characters into het gender roles. The fact that everyone is is assigned a ‘position ‘ (omega, alpha or beta) is very similar to the way everyone irl is assigned a gender.” They acknowledge that “this could lead to allegorical critsisms of the construct of gender in our culture, but those kinds of fics are few and far between, and for the most part people stick to the very hetero-cis-normative gender roles associated with the different positions, and they get very boring and formulaic after a while.”
Other critics are similar in their generalisations and cite many reasons they have a problem with this genre’s treatment of gender roles. I have tried to organise the following list by topic as much as possible, but the categories frequently overlap.
a) Omegaverse combines misogyny and homophobia, reproduces patriarchy and skewed power dynamics
“The omegaverse seems like the ultimate in misogyny and homophobia, all rolled into one. It effectively erases female characters and forces strict and horrific gender rolls into this fictional universe.” (KnightFrog1248, female, asexual/lesbian, 18-25, New Zealand)
“Weird reproduction of the patriarchy? if that makes sense? I hate Omegaverse fics where biological determinism applies and all the Alphas are big strong manly men with giant cocks who want to dominate and consume and all the Omegas are tiny and delicate and submissive. Gross gender dynamics irl, absolutely no reason to reproduce them in speculative fiction. Again, I can kind of see how this might be a fantasy for some people, but it really rubs me the wrong way. I just prefer relationships where both partners are equal and any kind of powerplay is short-term and well negotiated in advance.” (Em, female, bi, 25-30, USA)
“Weird heterosexual sex dynamics are frequently replicated in Omegaverse. Some writers compare in-world prejudices (usually those about omegas) to real-world racism or homophobia, but they do it really carelessly and it ends up being rather racist or homophobic.” (Alice, female, queer/grey-asexual, 18-25, Canada)
“… sometimes I get sick of the fact that most Omegaverse stories are simultaneously a BDSM story with Doms and Subs.” (TheSilent, female, 18-25, Germany)
b) Omegaverse forces male/female dynamics on same sex couples
“It seems to exist so that people can write about same-sex couples and have them be straight. Like, why?!?” (KnightFrog1248, female, asexual/lesbian, 18-25, New Zealand)
“It often feels like it’s just a way to get stereotypical gender roles into a same-gender relationship. With small, delicate Omegas who stay home and look pretty and have babies. With strong, protective Alphas, who are wealthy and look after them. Omegas as property, Alphas as their owners. It’s like the worst of male/female dynamics from relatively recent history being re-vamped and re-romanticized.” (hiddensymposiarch, female, bisexual, 30-40, Canada)
“Authors using it as a replacement for writing heterosexual fic.” (Tara, female, 25-30, India)
“I don’t like how Alpha and Omega in particular are basically a new gender solely made up so there can be gender roles for two people of the same sex, whereas what I like about slash is that this gender difference with its stereotypes is NOT present in the first place; and I don’t like how people are basically reduced to their biology and “can’t help themselves” and Alphas are basically like sexual predators.” (TheSilent, female, 18-25, Germany)
c) Omegaverse normalises everything that is evil about our world
I’m squicked out by the power dynamics. I don’t want my beloved characters part of a world with dubiously consensual sex, oppression and discrimination on the basis of their gender, intensely strengthened gender norms, being made helpless with undesired child bearing and being a prisoner of their biology. It feels too much like choosing to roll around in the nastier bits of historical (and current) discrimination against women.” (aaa, female, straight-ish, 25-30, Australia)
“The mirroring of misogeny in A/O dynamics. Worse, portraying the discriminations between A/O in a way that it looks like that is something natural.” (Ged_the_Winged, female, heterosexual biromantic, 15-18, South Korea)
d) The way A/B/O presents Omegas is detrimental to readers who identify with Omega characters
“With fic largely being written and consumed by male attracted cis-females…isn’t it likely they will see themselves in the role of the omega, with possible detrimental effects on their own sense of worth and expectations for relationships with a male/alpha partner? Are omegaverse fics that play up those stereotypes the slash equivalent of ‘After’ or Fifty Shades of Grey?” (hiddensymposiarch, female, bisexual, 30-40, Canada)
“There’s a trope where the omega is ‘not like the rest of the girls’, and dislikes going into heat, and actively works to suppress their ‘instincts’, but ends up falling for the alpha and rutting around anyway. Smacks too much of internalized sexism and self-hatred.” (MonaLisa, female, bisexual, 40-50, USA)
Interlude: Conflicting feelings
Under b), I quoted TheSilent (female, 18-25, Germany), who criticises both the heteronormative gender roles and the biological excuse for rape/dub-con. Regarding the latter, she goes on to say she is being “slightly hypocritical because I do sometimes enjoy the Sex Pollen trope, but I guess I prefer that because at least that’s not supposedly in a person’s “biological nature” but is an external influence and can be a one-time thing.”
Another respondent who pointed towards a certain ambiguity in their dislike for A/B/O is Abby (female, bisexual, 18-25, UK). She criticises “the societal sexism towards Omegas or the internalised sexism. Feels too much like homophobia and sexism rolled into one, which I just can’t stand.” Yet she continues: “It’s funny because I actually enjoy the societal sexism in PWP fics. Like, as a kink that is role-play or just PWP that you can interpret as role-play, I enjoy it (not the internalised homophobia/sexism though – like I mentioned earlier, it’s a complete no-no for me) but having an au where the society treats Omegas as second-class citizens feels too much like an interpretation of our current society and I read fanfic to escape it.”
And while magpieinthemorning (female, bi, 30-40, Germany) dislikes “romanticizing and normalizing the existing gender oppression in our society” when it comes to A/B/O, she adds: “Disclaimer: it’s possible that the couple of omegaverse fics I read were extreme and not representative of the genre. However, they were widely recommended by members of the fandom (that’s how I found them).”
What I want to highlight is that a person’s views on Omegaverse can be conflicting, not only because certain aspects are similar to those one enjoys in non-A/B/O fics, but also because it’s impossible to size up the entire genre and make generalisations.
UNLESS, I hasten to add, one simply doesn’t see the potential for criticism or social commentary in Omegaverse. Which is also a valid opinion to hold.
I don’t, in case that hasn’t become obvious. Thus I have chosen to close with the positive voices.
PART II: Positive voices
Symbolicanus (female, bisexual, 18-25, USA) sums this up quite nicely when she says Omegaverse “gives a space to subvert, play with, and question heteronormativity, gender roles, and the patriarchy.”
It may take readers some time to see it this way – I for sure spent a long time being weirdly fascinated by A/B/O until I realised how much social commentary is hiding under the emphasis on porn. I’m not alone. As Jade (nonbinary, they/them, panromantic asexual, 18-25, USA) recounts: “I do remember finding it really odd and not entirely pleasant until I discovered some omegaverse fic that focused on gender, relatonship, and social dynamics rather than on kinky sex.” Referring to The Guilded Cage, emptycel (female, bisexual, 18-25, USA) “I read beautifulfiction’s Guilded Cage first, which was a great introduction to the world because it paints a complex society, and not one just driven by lust and mpreg.”
a) A different take on gender dynamics and roles in an alternative society
While she doesn’t like the genre, Victoria Aros Schmidt, (female, demisexual, 18-25, Chile) says “the universe as a whole tempts me in a manner like dystopia does, show us another way to organized the world and society, and the same time show us our defects and dark spots.” Riley (nonbinary, they/them, asexual panromantic, 18-25, UK), contrarily, found they like the genre, “especially fics that question how society would respond and adapt to having secondary genders like alpha/omega/beta.”
This different take on gender dynamics and the different ways societies in Omegaverse are organised are what many respondents named as their favourite thing about this genre:
“Using it to explore gender and sexuality roles. Extreme gender roles. How canonically male characters are altered by being in a position analogous to traditional women’s roles.” (Serabander, female, straight, 50+, USA)
“I like the idea of a twisted reality where society is still fixated on gender but the skew is different, i.e. it’s not as much women that are repressed but omegas. it’s interesting to explore the themes of gender bias and prejudice using a totally fictional universe and it’s easy to relate to a lot of the injustices that omegas face and also fun to play with those themes.” (erin, female, pansexual, 18-25, UK)
“My favorite thing about Omegaverse is how the Alpha/Beta/Omega dynamic impacts the societies which has it. I seek out fics which do not ignore this aspect of the omegaverse. I also just enjoy the notion to begin with, it opens up a much broader space for gender when there are two factors to include. What if someone identified as one of their genders yet not the other?” (Mitzi, she/her or they/them, asexual homoromantic, 18-25, USA)
b) Turning gender-based discrimination on its head
By way of the inherent parallels between Alpha/Omega and male/female, male Omegas take on an interesting position in Omegaverse. Their experiences often mirror those of women in certain context in “real life” and reflect gender stereotypes and dynamics back at us. In that, A/B/O holds a mirror up to nature, so to speak, which proves to be a major plus for some of my participants:
“Aside from the porny aspects, I think that seeing strong male characters faced with enforced gender roles and gender-based discrimination makes me feel better about how I feel when someone expects me to be a daughter/wife/mother/fuckmeat rather than a real person. I also like the more complicated social dynamics that are possible with primary and secondary gender.” (thedepthsofmyshame, female, bi/pan, 40-50, USA)
“AAAAAHHHH, okay my absolute favorite thing about it is how it takes our current gender dynamics and FUCKS WITH THEM FOREVER. Men thinking about their cycles, worrying about pregnancy, the difficulties of navigating through gender politics when you are socially and politically disenfranchised, but this time starring MEN. There is nothing in this world that I love as much as I love fucking with gender roles. And omegaverse is AMAZING for that. But I also love that, because of the overwhelming nature of heats, the issue of consent MUST be discussed thoughtfully at some point, and that is one of the most amazing things about fanfiction in general.” (Brynna, female, bisexual, 30-40, Canada)
c) Omegaverse tells us how fanfic authors and readers think about our gendered reality
For Adelene (female, straight, 25-30, USA), the genre of Omegaverse shows how fandom, consciously or not, is dealing with “toxic hyper-masculinity, docile housewife, and people. It creates an interesting dynamic where you are in a way removing the stereotypes from genders and assigning them to a dynamic that is assigned based more on the personality of the character.” The infinite ways authors depict this, despite starting from the same framework, “gives you an insight into the many ways those stereotypes are perceived, reacted to, broken, and affect people both in fic and real life. I say real life as well since any writer draws from their own experiences and that always colors their writing.”
Some argue that stories that reproduce inequality in gender dynamics and heteronormativity prove that a trope is not subversive, or rather a step back. For example, Berit Åström analyses mpreg in Supernatural and concludes that mpreg mostly leads to conventional stories in an unconventional universe. She shows that the pregnant male is frequently given ‘female’ traits and the stories usually end in heteronormative, monogamous bliss and a nuclear family (birth parent, second parent, child/children).
In my essay on slash fan trailers, I discuss this very argument and propose a different reading – and yes, I’m quoting myself:
“The fact that fans revert back to heteronormative plot lines despite a queered text only serves to demonstrate how powerful the reining hegemonic norms are and how deeply the male/female binary along with all its historically grown inequalities permeates the attitudes of every single person in societies socialised by Western/American mainstream media.” Taking a genre like Omegaverse that has the potential to subvert, as many fics prove, and re-inscribing it with unequal gender dynamics, etc, is not exclusively ‘bad’. “Instead, such a ‘subversion of the subversion’ exposes the societal mechanism for what they are, and exemplifies just how deep heteronormativity undermines our everyday lives.”
As has become evident, Omegaverse can be both subversive as well as sexist/transphobic/homophobic at the same time. While it is understandable that some declare the genre “abhorrent” as a whole, a more differentiated view on this provides considerably more insight to the underlying discourses that fanfiction brings to the fore. It all hinges on several aspects – the fic in question, the reader’s attitude, etc. – so I urge everyone to consider this issue from multiple perspectives so you can draw a well-informed conclusion for yourself.
I leave you with a very optimistic quote, and hope you enjoyed the survey analyses. There might be more to come on such topics in the future, so stay tuned =)
“I adore the element of defying gender standards and fighting to come out on top in the name of love and justice.” (Mae, female, asexual/demiromantic, 15-18, USA)
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