Define: The Do-Be-Do-Be-Do Complex

I’m going to go ahead & swipe this phrase from a friend of mine, who I’ve heard use it a few times (though whom I haven’t heard if it’s okay to make reference to, so I’ll just thank him anonymously for now).

The Do-Be-Do-Be-Do Complex referrs to getting involved in relationships where (especially in retrospect) you were drawn to the person because you wanted to be like them, not necessarily do them.

For example, as a baby butch, I dated a butch for a while, and I think it was more about my own fascination with butchness than it was my own orientation toward wanting to partner with and/or date and/or sleep with butches.

The Do-Be-Do-Be-Do Complex is, I think, especially applicable to butches and femmes, though I’m sure it extends to other identities.

Is this a useful phrase? Have you gone through phases of dating the folks you wanted to be instead of who you were, perhaps, ultimately attracted to?

Published by Sinclair Sexsmith

Sinclair Sexsmith (they/them) is "the best-known butch erotica writer whose kinky, groundbreaking stories have turned on countless queers" (AfterEllen), who "is in all the books, wins all the awards, speaks at all the panels and readings, knows all the stuff, and writes for all the places" (Autostraddle). ​Their short story collection, Sweet & Rough: Queer Kink Erotica, was a 2016 finalist for a Lambda Literary Award, and they are the current editor of the Best Lesbian Erotica series. They identify as a white non-binary butch dominant, a survivor, and an introvert, and they live outside Seattle as an uninvited settler on traditional, ancestral, & unceded Snoqualmie land.

22 thoughts on “Define: The Do-Be-Do-Be-Do Complex”

  1. Dev says:

    I think the entirety of my attraction to women is probably this exact thing, which is why I typically describe myself as "mostly hetero."

  2. Now that I think about it…..

    I have found on many occasions that I was jealous because they had the personality I wanted. This thought would occur often as the relationship was ending/was over/or was poly. It doesn't go to say that our relationship didn't work because of this but I think it's only natural for this Do-Be-Do-Be-Do Complex to occur. It's apart of learning and growing.

    Yet, I always liked the woman, admired her, and sometimes wanted to be just like her. But the attraction to her as a spirit was still there through it all.

  3. genderkid says:

    I love this phrase; thanks for passing it on!

    I used to date someone who, in retrospect, I kind of wanted to be like; but I did want to do her, too. At first I felt kind of guilty: if I want to do and be like someone, isn't it kind of autosexual? (I decided it wasn't, because I only wanted to imitate her gender; not her whole personality. But I guess there wouldn't be anything wrong with autosexuality, either!)

  4. Gold says:

    Cute term :)

    Attraction is something instant and unmistakable for me. I feel it in my pulse all the way from my throat to my crotch immediately upon setting eyes on someone I'm attracted to. When I go after someone it's because I desire to fuck, be with, or possess her, not to be her.

    That being said, I usually have relationships with highly intelligent, successful, physically active over-achievers, all qualities I don't possess. But I also don't want to posses those qualities; I'm largely content to slack off. Maybe it's all part of my subconscious telling me I should do more with my life?

  5. Gold says:

    ps. Tell us more about this butch date of yours, please ;)

  6. Becky says:

    This was exactly the problem I had when I was first coming out to myself. My boss–not that much older than me–was exactly the kind of person I wanted to be when I grew up. There were so few tomboys that I interacted with as a kid that when I saw her swaggering like I do, in gym shorts and baseball cap like I wear–I was immediately attracted. Then I had two years of trying to figure out if I liked her or wanted to be like her. As others began to do the same thing for me, I slowly realized my answer: both.

  7. ephraim says:

    this was an issue for me in the (unfortunately many) years when i was considering transition but couldn't decide on it. i would find myself attracted to these smart, witty, charming lesbians that i knew and kept freaking out that that meant i must secretly want to be a lesbian, even though i knew i was really a guy. finally i realized that plenty of reasonable straight men would have been attracted to these lesbian friends of mine and my desires really didn't have that kind of bearing on my gender.

  8. Lolita says:

    Sounds like, as a baby butch, you were looking for a mentor.

  9. Jennie says:

    i think mine's backwards. the gal i'm dating called me a stubborn femme. i swore up and down i was not. if nothing else..i was soft butch. like my two best friends. lol until they both laughed at me and agreed with the gal. for the record, the gal is soft butch as well. lmao and i've finally given up and admitted that i might actually be femme.

  10. the femme top says:

    This is not butch or femme related, but the Do-Be-Do-Be-Do Complex was definitely what was up with the sexual relationship I had with the last bio-male I was with (over five years ago). I didn't admit this til a while after we stopped having sex. Sex I couldn't figure out why I was having because I was getting nothing out of it. It was my ex-wife, who knows me better than I know myself, who said to me at the time I was sleeping with him, "You know, you're not going to become him by fucking him."

    Smart woman. I should have listened to her more often. ;)

  11. Kyle says:

    With my wife, there were elements of admiration and attraction. She was so confident and and sexy and outgoing, I wanted some of that for myself. We've been together 16 years now and I've definitely benefited from being her partner, both on a personal and sexual level.

  12. Joliesse says:

    I love this phrase, but I can't say that I've ever really experienced it. I attract to people so different from myself that there's not much question of wanting to be them rather than doing. ;) That said, I'm emailing the link to a friend in a relationship that can so be summed up with this description!

  13. Siouxie_Suse says:


    it can work the other way around, too… especially in one's formative years… e.g., trying to 'be' like the person you're 'doing' and ending up a very unhappy baby femme trapped in baggy jeans (trying to 'do' being a 'proper lesbian' and wondering why her butch gf's eyes are wandering. . .)

  14. femme in butch cloth says:

    oh, totally: do i want them, or do i want to be them, or do i just want their outfit/shoes/look? would that be do-be-do-be-wear?

  15. queerboi says:

    this is something i think about a fair bit, especially since i'm a twink who dates mostly butches. when i'm attracted to an older butch (that is, pretty much constantly, hehe), i do think there's an element of wanting to be like her when [if] i grow up/into a more "adult" gender in addition to all the physical attraction, but that's absolutely fine with me =).

  16. curliegirl says:

    I love this term! It very aptly describes how I felt when I was first attracted to women and trying to figure out if I was gay or not…. Was I developing 'girl crushes' cuz I wanted to be like them or because I wanted to do them? I finally came to the (oh-so-right) decision that I am a lesbian… but the situation continued to get muddled with my first girlfriend. Was I narcissistic for wanting to date/sleep with a girl? A girl who happened to have the same body type, eye and hair color, and outgoing personality as I do?

    Whoever said "do i want to be like her or be with her… the answer is both" has the right idea. Why can't it be both? Aren't you attracted to someone partly because they possess traits you admire? and desire?

  17. Pugs says:

    Sinclair, I believe you've been going to therapy with me. My therapist swears (and I mostly agree) that every woman I have dated or had a crush on is because I want to BE them. Maybe. All I know is that I start out admiring the hell out of my crush and wish I could be more like her. But as time goes by and the infatuation wears off, I see beneath her veneer and think my own depth and substance are better for me.

  18. Amygdala says:

    My sister sent me the link to this entry because I talked to her about exactly this topic a couple of days ago. I think it is fascinating that obviously I'm not the only one experiencing this weird thing. I have a really hard time finding the right.. well.. let's call it "lesbian identity". I have no clue if I'm attracted to butches or if I want to be one and that kind of drives me insane. And I don't even understand how I can not know which one it is! Ah, well, I guess time will show and untill then I'll just do what feels right to me at that moment..

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