my coworker wants us to call her boyfriend her “master”

I’m taking today off, so this is a reprint of one of my favorite letters. I originally published this at New York Magazine in September 2016.

A reader writes:

An employee, “Sally,” started at our workplace about a year and a half ago. She’s not my subordinate, but is the subordinate to a peer of mine, and works frequently with my subordinates. A few months later she got a new boyfriend, “Peter.” (I found out about this through normal water cooler-type conversation.)

After she’d been with the company a few more months, at Christmas time of 2015, she invited her boyfriend to our holiday party. (This is totally normal in our workplace; people are welcome to bring any family or friends they like to the party as long as they RSVP.) Everything there seemed fine as well, although at one point Peter asked Sally to get him a drink, to which she replied “Yes, master!” in a very “I Dream of Jeannie” kind of way. We all laughed it off as a joke, and it didn’t come up again.

…until it did. We had an early summer party in late May at which Sally and Peter both attended (again, bringing SOs and friends was totally acceptable, so that was not in itself a problem). At this party, there was a good deal more of Peter ordering Sally around and Sally calling him “master”: he sent her to fetch drinks and hot dogs, he told her to find a place for them to sit, etc., to which she replied consistently with “Yes, master.” It made a number of people, myself included, clearly uncomfortable, but there was nothing objectively abusive about it (he never yelled at her or threatened her), and her immediate supervisor and her supervisor’s supervisor weren’t there, and so no one said anything (perhaps incorrectly?).

After the party, at the office, I overheard a conversation in which one of her coworker-friends was like, “so uh, what’s up with the master thing?” and she explained that she was in a 24/7 dominant/submissive relationship, and he wasn’t her boyfriend or her SO or her partner, he was her “master,” and needed to be referred to as such. Her coworker was clearly flummoxed and didn’t have much response to that.

Later, I heard her correct someone who referred to her boyfriend as her boyfriend/partner, saying that he wasn’t her partner, he was her master, and should be referred to using his appropriate title. She compared it to gay rights, saying that if she was a man, they wouldn’t erase her relationship by referring to “Peter” as “Patricia,” and so they shouldn’t erase the D/s relationship by calling him a partner instead of a master. It’s pretty clear that her coworkers aren’t comfortable asking her “will your master be at the end-of-summer barbecue?” or “did you and your master do anything fun this weekend?, though, and thus have just stopped referring to Peter at all.

Her direct boss, my colleague, is baffled as to how to sensitively address this issue. My instinct is that there’s a very big difference between insisting that colleagues acknowledge that you’re in a gay relationship and insisting that they refer to your partner as “your master,” and that it borders on involving other non-consenting parties into your relationship … but I can’t really articulate why. For what it’s worth, I am a bisexual woman, and our office has a number of gay/lesbian, trans, and poly individuals, so it’s not an issue of being against nontraditional relationships. It just seems to be that it seems very important to Sally that Peter be referred to as “her master,” and it seems equally clear that her coworkers find this intensely uncomfortable.

Help? How can I advise my colleague? What’s reasonable in this situation?

Whoa. Yeah, your coworkers definitely don’t need to refer to Peter as Sally’s “master,” and she’s wildly out of line to request or expect it.

What Sally is asking for is indeed akin to involving non-consenting parties in their sex life and in their relationship. Even if she wanted to argue that the term isn’t a sexual one (which is a bit of a stretch), she’s still insisting that people participate in a dynamic of her relationship with Peter that people haven’t signed up to be a part of.

That may become more intuitive if you consider that there isn’t actually any need here for a label more specific than partner (or, you know, even just “Peter”). Partner is a conveniently generic term that covers a whole spectrum of possibilities — boyfriend, girlfriend, spouse, long-term companion, asexual mate, and so forth. There’s no need to use a term that describes the dynamic between them so specifically. After all, imagine if you had a coworker who insisted that people identify her partner as her “lover.” It’s too much information, it’s not needed, and it’s understandably going to make people uncomfortable.

(The “lover” comparison works particularly nicely, since anyone insisting on it would come across as just as self-involved as Sally is doing here. And to be clear, Sally’s behavior is self-involved; making a point of describing the inner workings of your relationship to colleagues and insisting that they use very specific, sexually charged language to describe it when a more generic term would do is very much the province of people who are indulging their own urges at the expense of consideration for others.)

And really, “partner” should cover it. Someone could be your partner and also be your master; it might be an unequal partnership, but it’s still a partnership.

That’s why refusing to refer to Peter as Sally’s “master” isn’t at all equivalent to refusing to acknowledge gay couples or calling someone who identifies as a man by a woman’s name. You’re not refusing to recognize the relationship’s validity; in fact, by referring to Peter as your coworker’s partner, you’re inherently recognizing the relationship’s validity. No one is being erased.

But Sally is asking for more than that: She’s asking you to get involved in and play along with a specific dynamic of their relationship. It’s entirely reasonable to decline to do that. Whatever she and Peter agree to do together is all well and good, but you and your coworkers don’t need to participate in it.

And the fact that this is happening at work, as opposed to just in a social situation, gives this a whole additional layer of weirdness and discomfort. It would be odd enough if Sally were just doing this socially, but it’s infinitely weirder and more disturbing that she’s making it A Thing at work — where people normally have stronger boundaries than this, where she has something of a captive audience, and where people feel pressure not to cause tension in their relationships with her.

So, should her boss — your friend — say something to her about it? Probably, especially if it’s making people uncomfortable, as of course it is. If Sally pushes back with the gay-rights comparison again, her manager can point out that everyone is happy to acknowledge her relationship with Peter, but that they’re going to use the term “partner” as they would do with everyone else — gay, straight, poly, or any other relationship category.

{ 344 comments… read them below }

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      I saw the subject line and was like “OMGWTF IT HAPPENED AGAIN?!” and then saw Alison’s note.

      1. Aeryn Sun*

        Saame, like “wait woah woah woah this is an issue that has happened more than once?”

      2. Jadelyn*

        SAME! I literally jumped slightly and was expecting either it happened again, or this was another update on the first one, before I realized “oh, nvm.”

      3. Not Rebee*

        I got super excited because I thought it was an update to the original. Womp womp

        1. Bowserkitty*

          We did have an update, but I am naturally curious as to what happened with Sally AFTER she resigned!

    2. fposte*

      I like to think that somewhere the great AAM characters of yore all work together; Sally, the co-worker using the office bathrooms to double-dip as a sex worker during office hours, the Duck Club.

            1. Lance*

              Oof, yeah. It wasn’t even an unreasonable ask, being requested to not change her appearance during breaks in client meetings because they wanted those clients to not get confused, and yet… oof.

              1. Kathleen_A*

                She sounded bonkers to me, too, but I tried to tell myself that I was just being a boring, conventional stick-in-the-mud…and then the update showed that no, my first reaction was the right one. And that was a shame. “Free spirit” is a lot more fun and interesting than “nutcase.”

      1. Anastasia Beaverhousen*

        The what now? I don’t remember this double-dip letter. That sounds insane…

        1. fposte*

          It was really early, and it was one of the first harbingers of AAM’s greatness. (It must have been rerun at some point, too.) I’ll put links in followup when I find them.

          1. fposte*

            Oh, I just realized Alison may not be moderating today. If you use “moonlighting prostitute” in the search box it’s the first result.

            1. Veryanon*

              Ok, I just had to look that up…wow. But I think I can top that one – I used to work in HR for a retail company that sold maternity wear. We had a case where one of our store managers was running a prostitution ring OUT OF OUR STORE and was using the fitting rooms for the “clients” of said ring. Gross gross gross.

              1. fposte*

                Yikes. A monetized Duck Club. And like changing rooms weren’t already gross enough.

                Hope Alison notices this, because it’s a great story.

      2. Nicelutherangirl*

        And let’s not forget Jane, the clinic bookkeeper/biller/receptionist who was posting nude pictures of herself in the office – some during work hours – on Facebook.

        What a world.

        1. M&Ms fix lots of Problems*

          Yeah, that one had me just shaking my head. I couldn’t believe they were still just talking to her about it and hadn’t let her go over that yet.

        2. Detective Amy Santiago*

          OMG how could I forget Jane? That is the letter I most want an update for.

      3. Skeeder Jones*

        Let’s not forget the boyfriend who ghosted on his long-term girlfriend and then found out she was going to be his boss.

        I would like to think all these people are working for the manager who had her best employee quit to attend her graduation.

        There have truly been some doozies!

        1. Indigo a la mode*

          And it wasn’t ghosting…it was straight-up abandonment and fleeing the country. That was….nuts.

  1. Myrin*

    I can’t believe it’s been that long since this letter first got published, holy cow!

  2. Amber Rose*

    This letter blows my mind every time. So did the update. Truly, there are all types of people in the world.

    Enjoy your day off Alison!

    1. Foreign Octopus*

      I am very envious of the people who get to experience this letter for the first time!

      This is one of my favourites, right up there with the manager who wouldn’t let his best employee have the day off for her graduation, and he wrote in asking how to provide professional feedback that quitting without notice wasn’t the done thing.

      Truly, AAM is a trove of treasures.

  3. Laura H.*

    Enjoy your day off Alison!

    Three years later, still just as yikes…

    And yay the update for this one is in the suggested posts!

  4. Crivens!*

    That letter is still so crazy. Also way to fail at one of the most basic kink rules: don’t force your kink on other people!

  5. Seifer*

    I read this letter every once in a while and every time I am the physical manifestation of the cry-laugh emoji.

    I can’t EVEN.

    1. Vicky Austin*

      My all time favorite is the one where one coworker tickled another, didn’t get fired, and then the one who was tickled made the tickler’s life so miserable that she quit!

  6. axionymous*

    lol I love this letter so much, it hits so many points for me

    I’m in a gay relationship with a partner who I consider and refer to as my “master”….. in PRIVATE. God I am literally so mortified that I might accidentally slip up and call him master in public, it would be so embarrassing hahaha. (Hence why I went anonymous for this post hahaha.) I just cannot imagine what it would be like to be…… LIKE THIS about it.

    Part of me wants to be offended by the way she compares it to lgbtq+ rights, but it’s just so funny that I can’t

    1. Also anon for this one*

      I’m also gay and kinky and I can be offended on your behalf if you agree to be mortified on my behalf!

    2. Sadie*

      I bought my partner a personalised item he loves saying ‘Master’ as we have a D/s poly relationship.

      When I gave it to him the card suggested he take it to his new job because I was so proud of his promotion everyone else should address him correctly.

      Because it was him discovering this letter and sharing it with me that led me to AAM and it is a running kink joke between us along with the collar at work one.

      He momentarily thought I was being serious about taking said item to work and honestly I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard at an English dude trying to be polite but say no st the same time.

    3. Grace*

      I was reading answers to something about the most embarrassing moments, and one of them was a woman who had her boyfriend round for dinner with her parents for the first time, and… Well, when you ask “daddy” to pass you the salt and your father and boyfriend both reach for it at the same time, I don’t think there’s any coming back from that.

      1. LGC*

        Thanks, everyone in this bagel shop is looking at me like I’ve lost my mind I’m laughing so hard.

    4. Wantonseedstitch*

      Seriously! Good Kink means safe, sane, and consensual. If you’re trying to make nonconsenting people participate even a little, like by calling your master your master, that is Not Good!

    5. fposte*

      I cannot find this letter and don’t know if anybody else remembers it, but there was one years ago to the Vine at Tomato Nation about a plumber who answered a call at a letter writer’s home; he was a sub and came with a note from his dom/me about how he was to be treated and where the pay was to go.

      I think the response was universal that this was highly inappropriate and it was worth looking for another plumber rather than to be nonconsensually triangulated into somebody’s D/s relationship.

      1. Light37*

        I have heard of this letter, but don’t know the source. I didn’t see it when it was originally published, but I read all the Vines for over a decade and never saw that one, and a search of the website turns up empty.

        1. fposte*

          I’m wondering if I was wrong about the source, but I can’t think what else I would have been reading in that era where it would have come up, and I have not been able to craft a search that didn’t just lead to me a bunch of sites about being a sub. At any rate, I am now ready if a plumber ever gives me a note about their relationship.

    6. Mike*

      I can kinda see the connection to the LGBTQ+ relationships if they were saying stuff like “no he’s not your master” and trying to deny the relationship or something but just not using the term is very different. It’s not denying or minimizing the relationship (eg not the same as calling a spouse a roommate) it’s just being vague about it same as every other relationship.

      1. whingedrinking*

        Exactly. It’s not like everyone else is referring to their partners based on what kind of sexual acts they enjoy together (“this is Tim, my fellator!”) and she’s being excluded on the basis of her kink.

  7. Person from the Resume*

    I was a bit bummed to see this rerun because I remember it so well.

    OTOH this letter really captures several things I read AAM for: (1) absurdity of people (2) Alison’s just so perfect answer.

      1. JJ Bittenbinder*

        Ah, yes. In the update we see that the LW’s coworker spoke with Sally about it and…

        Sadly, Sally doubled down at this point, insisting that “lover” or “binkie-boo” or “snuffalupugus” or “fuckboy” or whatever should be used if they were accurate, because they accurately represent the relationship and to insist on ‘softening’ the nature of the relationship for the ‘easily shocked’ was a slippery slope to oppression.

      2. M&Ms fix lots of Problems*

        And Sally also tried to go over her boss’ head too. Grandboss backed up the manager on appropriate vs inappropriate things for office topics.

    1. Aveline*


      Anything that relies on people external to the main action (e.g., exhibitionism) needs to be done very carefully and tenderly.

      Do not involve people in your sex life without their enthusiastic, informed consent. Period.

      That’s what the Sub is asking people to do here. Not acknowledge. But participate.

      Her attitude isn’t sex positive, it’s actually quite retrograde.

  8. Wendie*

    Oh my. I have to say it’s hard for me to see how this can happen. In my opinion we all have one real master and this would make for an awkward moment in my place of employment (Church). My son in college has told me about this type of thing since he is in the photography club and anything can be art these days. I have to say that this is not art and nor is it a relationship. Hard pass (another thing I learned from my son lol).

    1. Jamey*

      Wow… While the woman in the original letter is acting inappropriately for a workplace, saying that her relationship is “not a relationship” because you don’t agree with how consenting adults choose to relate to each other is a pretty legitimately messed up thing to say.

      1. ExcelJedi*

        No one should be pulled into relationship dynamics without enthusiastic consent…but also no one has the right to delegitimize anyone else’s relationship.

        Hard pass on this comment.

    2. Amber Rose*

      Yeah, that’s a very uncool thing to say. There are many religions, many cultures, and many different ways for people to relate to each other. Completely dismissing them just because you don’t understand them is about as narrow minded and unreasonable as it gets.

      Pretty sure the bible says “judge not lest ye be judged” or something like that. Sounds like maybe you should do some more reading before deciding your opinion is the only correct one. :|

    3. Clorinda*

      It’s definitely a relationship. But Sally has no right to draw other people into the relationship and make them participants in it, which the use of the term “master” would do.
      Hard pass on the ‘this is not art’ bait.

    4. The Gollux (Not a Mere Device)*

      This woman is way off the deep end, but that doesn’t mean it’s appropriate to expect everyone else to follow the teachings of your religion.

      Artists can make art about anything; that’s not new. It doesn’t follow that “everything is art,” or that everyone thinks that their lives are a performance.

    5. Magenta*

      I’m in the UK and this post would be just as inappropriate in an office as the situation in the letter. People need to keep private things private, there is no need to bring up sex, religion or politics in the work place.

    6. L. S. Cooper*

      I’m….. not even sure where to start with this one. I’m almost as flabbergasted by this comment as I am by the original letter.

      1. Amber Rose*

        Some kinds of unreasonable BS act as magnets for the opposing kind of unreasonable BS. The stronger the initial level of BS, the more impressively bizarre the response.

        It’s all very scientific. xD

        1. L. S. Cooper*

          Ah, I see! Maybe if we find enough people from bizarroland and put them in the same room, we can harness that power and get some clean energy out of it….
          Or, at the very least, some very absurd entertainment.

    7. Dust Bunny*

      I actually had to stop and wonder about the “one real master”.

      Fortunately, opinions aren’t facts.

      1. L. S. Cooper*

        It’s always the same one real master, too. Never Sauron, or a cool dragon, or even a Jedi.

        1. Ellex*

          There’s only one real Master (a/k/a Missy), and that’s the one portrayed by Roger Delgado. And Anthony Ainley. And Peter Pratt. And Gordon Tipple. And (satirically) Jonathan Pryce. And Derek Jacobi. And John Simm. And Michelle Gomez.

          And once, arguably, Eric Roberts.

          Only one.

      2. King Friday XIII*

        Yeah in this particular context I had to stop and think about it a bit, and then I decided I didn’t want to be nonconsentually involved in someone else’s religious relationships either. ;)

        1. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House*

          Absolutely agree, I don’t want in your kinky relationship with any god.

      3. RUKiddingMe*

        Right? Nothing like trying to make one’s opinion out to be fact no matter how anyone else might feel about it.

        1. Jadelyn*

          Gods above, below, and between…I had to choke back a wild screech of pterodactyl-laughter at that one. This thread is utter gold!

        2. Bulbasaur*

          There was a recent article on Captain Awkward where she drew parallels between BDSM relationships and novices pledging themselves to religious orders (in the sense that both involved a surrender of authority and dependence on external approval). I am amused to see the the comparison coming up again, even if probably unintentionally.

          1. Sister Mike*

            I’ve been a Novice in a religious order for two and a half years, and the first week in June I’ll be taking my final vows.
            And I have no idea how I’m going to explain what I’m laughing about… (there’s no way I’ll forget about this comparison)

          2. Sister Mike*

            I’ve been a Novice in a religious order for two and a half years, and the first week in June I’ll be taking my final vows.
            And I have no idea how I’m going to explain what I’m laughing about… (there’s no way I’ll forget about this comparison)

            (PS. It should go without saying, but I know it doesn’t, that I’m on board with the folks pointing out how unnecessarily rude the original comment was. Oof.)

            1. Former Employee*

              Congratulation on finding your life’s purpose.

              I am always relieved when I encounter a religious person who has a sense of humor.

              Sometimes I think that if more people who describe themselves as religious also had a sense of humor, perhaps everyone would get along better.

              1. Sister Mike*

                Thank you :)
                And I’ve had that thought more than once! Interestingly, when I was researching Orders to join, a lot of them explicitly listed “a sense of humor” as a quality that would make you a good fit for them. A Terribly Serious person who takes themselves Very Seriously would probably find this kind of community life really frustrating, in my experience.
                The first time I got together with my whole Order (we live dispersed, as Episcopal communities more frequently do) any worries I had were immediately put to rest when someone pulled out A Game for Good Christians, which is basically Cards against Humanity with the Bible’s strangest and dirtiest verses. Watching a roomful of priests and our Bishop yelling about R-rated Biblical scenarios is now an annual highlight.

                1. Vicky Austin*

                  That’s awesome. I recently left the Catholic church for the Episcopal church, and one reason why I prefer my new church is that they aren’t weird and prudish about sex like the Catholics are.

              2. Vicky Austin*

                I’m a Christian, and I love making/laughing at dirty jokes. Especially penis jokes! They’re the funniest!

      4. Jadelyn*

        Same – it really took me a sec to figure out what that meant. Sometimes things happen that really drive home just how thoroughly I’ve managed to decolonize my mind from Christian indoctrination over the last 20 years or so, and this was definitely one of those. (It’s a nice feeling, lol)

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          I left religion ten years ago (almost to the day) and I immediately knew what it meant.

          Hopefully, in another ten years I’ll get to where you are.

    8. Lena Clare*

      I’ve typed about 20 responses to this and all of them are just really rude because I’m so mad at this comment, so all I’ll say is ‘wow’.

      Alison I hope you enjoy your day off and are well.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Same reaction here.

        If I had to take a guess, I’d say the majority of the commenters on here have at some point been on the receiving end of “what you have is not a relationship” (I know I have). It does not stop until you are married to someone (in a church wedding, of course) and have 2.3 kids and a house in the suburbs. Wait I take it back – ex-husband and I had all these boxes checked off when we were married (well to be exact, we only had 2.0 kids) and people were still getting on our case because we had separate bank accounts. Why do people care so much if someone else’s love life is up to their standards? smh

        1. RUKiddingMe*

          Also if you don’t share a surname. Not a real marriage. Only one child? Not a real family..and on and on.

        2. Lepidoptera*

          well to be exact, we only had 2.0 kids

          It’s because that messy 1/3 of a kid makes people too scared to ask more questions. That’s where you went wrong.

        3. Lauren*

          In what kind of backwater do you have to have a “church wedding”? I don’t know anyone who much cares if someone got married by a priest, minister, imam, rabbi, or justice of the peace.

          And why are you telling anyone the status of your bank accounts anyway? It’s not anyone’s business.

      2. Justme, The OG*

        I really want to be able to add the Chrissy Tiegen “yikes” gif to Wendie’s comment.

    9. Lena Clare*

      This comment is similar in some ways to the OP’s. You have a master who you submit to (god), and who you think is the master of everyone.

      Sally has a master who she submits to and wants everyone to refer to him as master.

      I decline both as being counter my wishes.

    10. Environmental Compliance*

      The beauty of the world is that there are so many belief systems, personal likes/dislikes, and ways to go through life. It’s a lot less stressful and a lot more simple if you accept certain things just aren’t for you, but those that make different decisions also are well within their rights for choosing to enter that path. You want to be Church Person (TM)? That’s great. You do you. Someone else wants to be in a D/s relationship? Cool. They do them. Are they actively negatively impacting your life? No? Cool, then it shouldn’t matter to you what they do in their free time as consenting adults.

      Not that I’m religious now, but I was raised to be. One of the most important things that was taught in that church, and something I still value, is that *you* are not the final decision maker. Your role (within that belief system) was to love, educate if asked, and support people. Not that you had to agree – not at all – but that person still had value as a person, and what they believed was still legitimate to them. It’s always a bit interesting (in an off-putting way) when someone wants to push Religion to de-legitimatize someone else’s beliefs.

    11. bookartist*

      “…anything can be art these days.”

      See, this is what you get when you cut arts education to the schools.

    12. Temperance*

      I mean, that’s how you live your life, cool … but like, it’s *your* life. No need to throw judgment at other people for living and believing different things than you do. Kind of sad that your worldview is so limited.

    13. Jadelyn*

      Alternatively, you could keep your holier-than-thou judgment of other people’s relationships to yourself and be polite and civil to us instead. Just a thought.

        1. CMart*

          “This is the internet” is where my brain always spins in circles when trying to decide if something is snark or not. Because well, it’s the internet, people love to show off their wit and troll a little bit. But also… it’s the internet, and as I think someone on the original post commented “truly what a rich tapestry life is”.

        2. TheRedCoat*

          This falls under Poe’s Law, IMO. Reality being what it is, that without the corresponding marks to denote it as a joke, it can certainly be taken as truth.

      1. Lance*

        I’ve seen too much of such opinions to not think someone’s being serious about this sort of thing, personally. And if they’re going for a joke, I’d argue it’s in somewhat poor taste.

    14. iglwif*

      Ummmmm … nope.

      Yes, the situation LW describes is awkward. That doesn’t make Sally’s relationship with Peter not a relationship!

      Sally’s request is out of line and so are your comments.

    15. Vicky Austin*

      I just laughed so hard at the thought of someone who worked at a church demanding the other people at the church call her boyfriend “master!”

      1. L. S. Cooper*

        Depends on the church…. I know a minister at a Unitarian church who is plenty open about his BDSM tendencies.

        1. Vicky Austin*

          That’s gross. Not just because he’s a minister, but because it’s TMI for anyone at work.

    16. Vicky Austin*

      In fact, I laughed so hard that I completely glossed over the part about you saying it’s not a real relationship. If you’re not familiar with the BSDM lifestyle, I can certainly understand how you might think that. On the surface level, it sounds like an abusive relationship, but it’s really not because both parties are consenting to be in it, and either party can choose the end it at any time.

    17. Lady Phoenix*

      How to be a sex negative jerk: kinkshaming sane, safe, and consensual kinks and degrade people who are involved in that life style.

      You’re the polar opposite of Kinky girl in the letter, and that makes you both jerk.

    18. Middle School Teacher*

      I can very clearly see you are not familiar with the expression “bless your heart”. Please look it up and then get back to me. Speaking of passing judgement… maybe practice what you preach.

    19. Not Peter Pan*

      Wendie, what a truly astonishing comment. Wow. Is this an attempt at performance art?

    20. Pomona Sprout*

      What gives you the right to decree that this relationship is not in fact a relationship? Disagreeing with its dynamics is one thing. You’re allowed to have an opinion about that, even though some of us may not agree with it. But that doesn’t make it not a relationship!

  9. Ramenramen*

    WAIT. I just read the letter about the 24/7 D/s relationship submission asking about wearing a collar to work ( ), and it seemed like you pretty neutral about it, Alison, and the comments were along the lines of “this is no different than a gay relationship” “if you see a collar and it makes you uncomfortable, maybe you hate gay marriage, too” “a sub collar is NO DIFFERENT than a wedding ring” “obviously a WEDDING RING implies SEX, too, so HOW is it different than a collar?”. Am I dense- what is the difference between these two situations?!

    1. Jamey*

      To me, it feels a bit different because of the level of subtlety. Like, if you can wear a collar that isn’t obvious to outsiders what it is, that feels like your own business. If you start talking about the collar and the meaning of it in your kink relationship to people in your office, that’s probably overstepping. If you’re insisting that people talk about it with the sexually charged words you use, that’s definitely overstepping.

      1. Antilles*

        Like, if you can wear a collar that isn’t obvious to outsiders what it is, that feels like your own business.
        In fact, that was part of the original response by AAM – if OP picks one that looks like a standard necklace, it could be fine as long as OP used a generic bland response if the subject came up.

    2. Clorinda*

      The difference is the level of participation demanded of observers. Also, as I recall, the comments were FULL of people suggesting subtle/pretty/not-in-your-face collar necklace options.

    3. Amber Rose*

      The difference is that you’re completely reading it wrong. :/
      Pretty much nobody said that a collar was appropriate, unless it looked more like a necklace.

    4. Elizabeth Proctor*

      Analogy: religious jewelry vs. proselytizing in the workplace, nay, forced prayer in the workplace.

    5. fposte*

      I agree that that’s not really a summation of the comments. But the important points that overlap are that 1) it’s fine for people to have kink or any other legal relationships and 2) people at work shouldn’t have to be involved in your sex life. Being in proximity to jewelry that may or may not signify a D/s relationship isn’t being involved. Being told to use an atypical relation-based term for a co-worker’s partner is.

    6. Akcipitrokulo*

      I think that there is/can be a level of subtlety with collars (and even a level of plausible deniability even if you do recognise it as a symbol and not just a fashion choice) – both of these mean that participation by your coworkers in your relationship is not being required.

      Requiring coworkers to refer to “your master” is forcing their participation.

      That’s the main line to draw I think.

    7. Close Bracket*

      Not much, actually. “Master” isn’t that different from “husband” or “wife” (or “girlfriend” or “boyfriend.” It’s unusual and it feels like TMI, but really, whatever people and the person they signed a piece of paper with agree to do together is all well and good, but I don’t need to get involved with that specific dynamic, either. Can you imagine if I repeatedly referred to somebody’s spouse as “partner” though? Some people are really attached to that piece of paper, and I would definitely be accused of refusing to recognize the relationship’s validity. So, yeah.

      1. Not Me*

        But in our society and culture master is very different than husband or wife. Logically, you can make a good argument to the contrary, but societal norms aren’t necessarily based in logic.

      2. fposte*

        I think as long as you referred to *everybody*’s spouse as partner it wouldn’t be that big a deal. It’s if you single out specific groups to withhold the standard from that it becomes a problem.

        I don’t think you’re wrong in what I see as your underlying implication: that there’s not a completely objective differentiation between office-usable terms for relationship and other terms. But I also don’t think that matters that much–custom, not objectivity, is what determines what’s appropriate for work (and, for a lot of us, what we do for our jobs), and just because the determination isn’t objectively quantifiable doesn’t mean you can’t draw a line.

        1. Close Bracket*

          “I think as long as you referred to *everybody*’s spouse as partner it wouldn’t be that big a deal.”

          It sure would be to the people who attached to that “husband/wife” title. Remember the LW who was all bent out of shape that she couldn’t wear her amethyst wedding ring and some of the outrage in the comments? Those are the types of people who would flip their shit if I referred to their spouse as their partner, and no, it wouldn’t be less of a big deal if I referred to everybody’s spouse that way, and I think you know that.

          1. fposte*

            You don’t know if it would be or not, because it’s hypothetical, so right now it’s just a straw man to prove your point. And yes, I do know that it would be less of a big deal to refer to everybody’s spouse as their partner than to use it only for, say, GLBTQ people’s spouses, or the one person you don’t like, because using “partner” as a broad term is very different than using it to delegitimize specific relationships. “Partner” is common in my workplace for legal spouses and others and nobody bats an eye, and it’s a growing use generally.

            Sure, some people might flip their shit at its use. But, as you note with the amethyst ring and as evidenced by this letter, there’s nothing that somebody won’t flip their shit at, and it doesn’t mean that they’re right.

          2. It’s A Bird, It’s A Plane, It’s SuperAnon*

            That particular letter was about a rule that all jewelry worn at work must be gold or silver, and OP’s wedding ring was not allowed to be worn because of that rule but everyone else could wear their gold or silver wedding bands. It was a letter about whether baseless rules could be enforced, not marital status.


        2. M&Ms fix lots of Problems*

          Or even if it was a case of you used partner once because you were unsure of the preference of the other person and used their preference/correct title as soon as you were told what it was.
          (I am envisioning a case where you meet a coworker that you know is in a relationship, don’t know their S/O’s name, and are wanting to be polite.)

      3. MsClaw*

        ‘Master’ is really, really different from ‘husband’ or ‘girlfriend’ to the vast majority of us. I am in a partnership this my husband. But neither of us OWNS the other. I don’t know if this is a regional/cultural/language thing but for many people, the term ‘master’ is nothing like the equivalent of ‘romantic partner’.

      4. CmdrShepard4ever*

        I think it would depend on who’s spouse you are referring to as partner. If you are referring to someone’s non hetronormative spouse as a partner then yes you might be accused of refusing to recognize the validity of the relationship because in the past people have used it that way. But if you referred to someone’s spouse in a non hetronormative relationship as their partner I don’t think many people would accuse you of trying to invalidate their relationship.

      5. ChimericalOne*

        Just because you could *theoretically* be accused of something doesn’t make it true, especially if you truly were being completely evenhanded in the terminology you used. Nor does it mean that any & every relationship title is equally appropriate for work. As Alison/the OP points out, “Master” is super sexualized and isn’t far off asking coworkers to refer to your partner as your “f&%$ boy.” Master is not at all a neutral title in the U.S. You will never hear it outside of kink circles.

    8. ket*

      Yeah, rereading would probably help, but I’ll actually pull in the religious angle from above ’cause I think it’s interesting:

      Wear a cross or star of David necklace, or cover your head as a representation of your religious devotion? Not a problem as long as it’s not a safety hazard. Ask all your coworkers to refer to your God (or G-d) as “Master”? Enforced participation; not cool.

      Difference from asking coworkers to refer to your spouse as spouse if you’re married to someone of the same sex? Legal accuracy.

    9. FritzRoy*

      You may want to reread those comments and try to comprehend them this time. That is not an accurate representation of the majority of the discussion, so you may have gotten a little distracted somewhere along the line.

    10. ChimericalOne*

      … I just looked at the collars Alison linked to in that response (the linking eternity collars) and my jaw dropped because they looked JUST LIKE a necklace I had as a young adult (a simple metal choker band), barring the ends-screw-together mechanic. I wouldn’t think D/s collar if I saw one; I would think “slightly edgy necklace” at worst.

      IMO, the difference would be if the OP of that letter insisted on referring to it as a collar and wanted to tell people all about it at work, as opposed to aiming to be discreet and doing her best to conceal / downplay it, as it seemed she planned to. One is TMI for work. It’s dragging people into your relationship. The other is not.

    11. Marthooh*

      Not actually responsive to this comment, but: Sally should tell everyone to refer to Peter as “the old ball and chain”.

    1. Nea*

      The thing that astounds me the most from reading AAM are the reasons why some people quit their jobs. “The office is toxic, run for your life!” is one thing, but this woman quit her job over relationship nomenclature, the woman who liked to change her appearance during the day quit when she was told to maybe not do that during long meetings — there could be quite the entertaining AAM column that’s just a compilation of non-job-related reasons why someone walked out and never came back.

      1. Annie Moose*

        Wasn’t the employee who changed her appearance during the day the one who whipped her shirt off in the process of quitting/being fired?

        1. fposte*

          I just checked, and she didn’t whip it off but had it completely unbuttoned, which I’d totally forgotten!

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        The flip side of that coin is the crazy over the top stuff for which Bob can’t be fired because firing people is a pain.

    2. Sharrbe*

      And she probably thinks she’s going to find a workplace more accepting of this. She’s in for a rude awakening. Any “master” who believes that the rest of the world should recognize him as a master is so lacking in common sense that he really shouldn’t be participating in this lifestyle. Common sense, man. Delusions? No.

        1. Anon for This One*

          Yeah, I’d be tempted to ask for a note from Peter approving of his sub’s behavior of pulling in outsiders into their relationship. But then I’m a trouble maker. [grin]

  10. SOAS*

    That was crazy and wild.

    This may be a personal weird hang up of mine, but kink or not, I when spouses/partners are SO INVOLVED in others’ jobs… like the one who doesn’t go anywhere without their spouse, won’t meet people of the opposite gender, won’t travel b/c the spouse says no, or the one whos husband would get mad if she was in a meeting? Also, wasnt’ there a letter where someone’s wife was literally doing work assignments? Much like how a lot of people shudder at open offices, this is the thing that makes me cringe/shudder.

    1. some dude*

      Yeah, there is an element of “is this a kinky relationship, or just a good ol’ fashion controlling/emotionally abusive one?”

    2. Marion Ravenwood*

      Oh yes. See also: insisting on bringing the spouse to work drinks, even though they are the only non-colleague there. If it was still the case that people did jobs for life I’d sort of see the point, but when people move on every few years and only keep in touch with one or two colleagues at most (at least in my experience), then I just don’t get it. It’s just horribly awkward for everyone in my experience.

      1. DemGiggles*

        I did this accidentally once! My fiance and I had to go meet our priest for wedding prep and there was a happy hour that I had to go to because I needed to talk to one of the manager’s about something. My fiance walked in with me assuming that he could just wait at the bar until I was done because we had to drive together and that multiple people would be there; nope it was just me, my manager, and fiance… who couldn’t escape once we all said hello. We were all so uncomfortable, the next time I saw my manager I apologized for Mike Pencing him (we’re different genders). He laughed about it and it’s my favorite cringe story of the last year.

    3. Lucette Kensack*

      I agree, but that doesn’t seem to be at play here. This workplace seems to have a culture in which spouses routinely attend events.

    1. M&Ms fix lots of Problems*

      Yup. My thought was that Sally wanted to push buttons. Good for the company on not letting her push buttons that made basically everybody else there uncomfortable.

      1. The Original K.*

        I think so too, particularly since the LW pointed out several times that this was a pretty progressive office so there weren’t that many buttons to push.

      2. WorkIsADarkComedy*

        That Sally doubled down and left the job over this says to me that she wanted to more than simply push buttons. Sounds like Sally desperately wanted people to validate the nature of her relationship (perhaps coming from lots of family disapproval of the relationship, but that’s just speculation). If she were simply pushing buttons/boundaries she wouldn’t take it so personally that people weren’t going along.

        1. Observer*

          Then she was being spectacularly self destructive. The reality is that no one was trying to invalidate her relationship, no was being disapproving etc. In fact, the reverse. Her supervisor was pretty explicit that no one was trying to express a negative opinion, they just didn’t want to be part of ANYONE’S intimate dynamic.

          1. B.*

            That’s true, but I think it might have been what happened nonetheless. In which case it’s really quite sad.

        2. M&Ms fix lots of Problems*

          And who knows, could have been a case of she started out wanting to push boundaries and just got too far out on the limb in an excess of enthusiasm for her lifestyle. She may not have really intended to quit, but did it as a threat that manager/grandboss took seriously.

  11. Moray*

    I’m trying to think of how same-sex partnerships could actually be comparable to this. Should I start making my coworkers exclusively refer to my boyfriend as “Moray’s homosexual sex partner who has a penis” or do I need to go into more detail?

    1. HeyAnonanonnie*

      Sally trying to argue that it was equivalent is just so gross and smacks of someone trying to adopt an oppression stance for attention. No, trying to involve others in your kink isn’t equivalent to being denied rights and benefits based on sexual orientation. Geez.

      1. L. S. Cooper*

        And also plays into those same old gross stereotypes that anyone who isn’t straight is just inherently shoving their sex lives onto everyone else. Ugh.

        1. Lady Phoenix*

          Or in the case of some kinks (pedophilia and such), that the queer community are gross.

          Verrrrrrry icky.

        2. skarlatha*

          I had a student complain to my department chair that I talked about my sex life too much in class and it was inappropriate. Turns out just mentioning that I, a woman, had a wife was “talking about my sex life.” To her credit, my chair told the student that it was not a valid complaint and they wouldn’t be taking action against me, BUT STILL.

          I should also mention that I teach college classes, so it wasn’t even a “won’t someone please think of the children” thing.

          1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

            It reminds me of that joke floating around.

            “Oh, I can’t do that, it’s bad for the baby!”
            “What baby?”
            “Me. I’m the baby.”

            1. Vicky Austin*

              I was just about to reply “I don’t get it,” when suddenly it dawned on me.

        3. Mary*

          Also the idea that queer people are oppressed because we can’t talk about our relationships at work, when that’s just one aspect of a spectrum of oppression that includes violent homophobia, material poverty, lack of bodily autonomy and so on.

          (Obviously some of these things do also affect straight kinky people too, but most do not.)

      2. Dust Bunny*


        I’m dating an older man. Much older. Older enough to definitely raise eyebrows among the general population. Everything is cool between us but common sense says that it’s the kind of thing that’s just simpler not to broadcast. Unless we were looking for drama/to feel victimized.

      3. Vicky Austin*

        Exactly! No one was ever denied rights because they were into kink! And it wasn’t even the kink per se that people had a problem with, it was discussion of her sex life at the workplace at all. It would be just as inappropriate if a coworker constantly told everyone that she and her husband have sex every Saturday night in the missionary position.

    2. Amber Rose*

      I think it could only be sort of comparable to a certain kind of gay person who thinks that anyone who doesn’t want to hear the details of their sex life is discriminating. But that’s honestly just comparing one unreasonable person to another, not so much one type of relationship to another.

      I don’t want to be involved in the details of anyone’s sex life, period.

      1. M&Ms fix lots of Problems*

        So agreed! I don’t want anybody’s details of the private lives. I can be a bit “prudish” in if it happened in private between you and your partner I don’t need to hear it.

      1. CmdrShepard4ever*

        I am going to have my coworkers start referring to my wife as “the women who has sex with CmdrShep.”

        If I am mentioning her I will refer to her as “the women who has sex with CmdrShep” also, not only will this be TMI but it will allow me to refer to myself in the third person.

        1. Nessun*

          This reminded me of Rumpole’s “She Who Must Be Obeyed”…and in the context of the original letter, then things in my head got kinda weird.

          1. RubyMoon*

            I love this! Among our friends that know us and our D/s dynamic, my partner refers to me as “She who Must” or “Her Ladyship.” In public we keep it low key, and I would never insist anyone at work use relationship titles they’re not a part of. I call him my partner, among my closest work-mates, I refer to him by name or jokingly as “himself.”
            He slipped once at a work drinks “plus-one” (we’re allowed bring a partner or friend, usually a 2 hour sunset-on-the-Gulf cruise) function and answered me with a “Yes Milady”, but was able to fluff it off with a big exaggerated bow-and-flourish maneuver that had people giggling, and it was subsequently attributed to the Most Excellent Beverages being served in hollowed out frozen pineapples.

  12. LaDeeDa*

    I love this letter so very much. It perfectly illustrates how people have no damn clue as to what is appropriate or not.

    1. Sharrbe*

      I’m hoping that they’re very young and clueless? I HOPE that she is one day going to be embarrassed over this.

  13. some dude*

    This taught me several important lessons, namely that members of marginalized communities can sometimes be full of baloney, and the fact that a member of a marginalized community is full of baloney doesn’t mean other members of said community are full of baloney, just that people are complicated and strange and sometimes do weird stuff.

    I think it is also an instructive example of how the language and concepts of social justice can be weaponized in some situations. I also wonder how difficult it is, if you experience bias and discrimination on a daily basis, to determine when you are being discriminated against and when you are actually the jerk in a situation.

      1. Jamey*

        As someone who is part of the kink community and also *actual* marginalized communities, a big +1

      2. some dude*

        Sorry, I was reading her as being queer. My bad. But the kink community is at least adjacent to marginalized communities, no? Or there is crossover? Most of the (very few because I am ultra vanilla) kinky folk I know were also part of the queer community. But maybe that is just my city.

        1. Jamey*

          There is admittedly a lot of overlap, but there are also plenty of hetero kink couples and it’s very frustrating to queer folks when those people act like they are oppressed in the same way as we are.

        2. TurquoiseCow*

          There’s some crossover, as there is with any sort of sexuality. But there are kinky people who are straight as a ruler and super monogamous, and there are queer people who have no interest in kink.

      3. Magenta*

        It depends where you are, and what the local laws are.

        In the UK anything that leaves marks is considered assault at the very least, and consent it not a defence as one can’t consent to a criminal act. The top can be prosecuted without the cooperation of the sub and so there is potentially a lot of risk involved. People can and have lose jobs, social standing, and freedom.

        The illegality can lead to other issues, subs may not get medical treatment for fear of marks being discovered, it can also mean that people don’t go to the authorities when there is actual physical or sexual abuse because they are scared that the relationship details might get out and/or be used against them.

      4. JKP*

        Well considering it was only 2013 when bdsm was finally removed from the DSM as a mental illness, and before that, was definitely used as justification for discrimination, I think it can be considered a marginalized group. Homosexuality was removed from the DSM in 1973.

        “A 1998 survey from the NCSF found that “36 percent of S&M practitioners have been victims of harassment, and 30 percent have been victims of discrimination.” As a result, the organization’s website says, “24 percent [have lost] a job or a contract, 17 percent [have lost] a promotion, and 3 percent [have lost] custody of a child.””

        In family court, an interest in BDSM was used as justification to remove people’s children from their custody. 80% of people who turned to the NCSF for legal assistance in custody battles because of bdsm from 1997-2010 lost their cases.

        (citation: BDSM Versus the DSM in the atlantic)

      5. ChimericalOne*

        The question of whether having non-normative sexual proclivities makes you a member of a marginalized group is definitely an open question, IMO. What makes you a member of a marginalized group? If it’s the chance of being fired for something you identify as (e.g., kinkster/dom/sub/etc.), well, you’ve got that chance. If it’s the chance for being jailed for something you identify as, well, you’ve got that chance. If it’s the chance of being labeled a pervert and a threat to vulnerable members of society (young, old, female), well, you’ve got that chance.
        To some folks, kink is fun, just something to spice up the relationship; to others, it’s part of their identity and something they can’t be happy without. They could be a dom or sub. They could be poly or swingers. They could be furries. Any of the above risks you being viewed with suspicion if outed in a conservative (or even just mainstream) environment. If we’re going to say (as many on the left would) that being asexual makes you part of a marginalized group, I don’t see how a kink-related identity doesn’t.

        1. ChimericalOne*

          (I know it’s probably frowned on to lump poly in with kink, but I don’t see that it’s *that* different from swinging — depending on whether you have multiple primary partners or just one primary + a secondary or two each. And depending on how important swinging or non-monogamy is to your happiness in a relationship.)

          1. Jadelyn*

            Are you poly, yourself? Because I have been – I would actually still describe myself as poly, I’m just in a monogamous relationship these days – and I have to say I’m finding it pretty offensive to lump poly (multiple relationships) in with swinging (multiple sex partners). Swinging is about sex. Polyamory is about relationships. Two different things.

            There are some subtypes of poly that are closer to swinging, but for example, I was always involved in polyfidelity – “closed system” type relationships, where multiple people were involved but we sure as hell weren’t having sex outside that, and in fact one member of a triad I was involved with did cheat on us with someone else and it caused the same kind of emotional and relationship damage that cheating in a monogamous relationship would. Not like swinging at all.

            1. ChimericalOne*

              I do identify as poly, although — like yourself — I’m in a monogamous relationship these days (mostly). Swinging isn’t necessarily “just” about sex, just as polyamory isn’t necessary just about relationships, and swinging partners can cheat on each other just as poly partners can. Swingers sometimes swing with random folks & they sometimes only swing with one particular couple who they’re very close to. Tell me that’s not about relationships.

              Sex often drags people into new relationships, and it often blooms out of existing relationships. I don’t think we ultimately change the narrative for the better when we elevate relationships at the expense of degrading the idea of sex and isolating it from relationships/identity/meaningfulness, especially when we’re talking about valuing consensual lifestyles that society demonizes people for.

          2. Mari M*

            As someone who was explicitly not kinky when she was part of a poly relationship: no, it’s not kink, and no, it’s not swinging, and swinging isn’t kink either, it falls under the umbrella of consensual non-monogamy.

            I’m not even pursuing poly anymore (soured on it, thanks) but I don’t like the confusion and misrepresentation.

      6. RUKiddingMe*

        Thank you, yes. Having a kink does not keep put one in a position of not being afforded their civil rights, the ability to get married, etc. the same way it does for say people of color.

        1. Jadelyn*

          To be fair, not all types of oppression function the same way. Sexism doesn’t put women in the position of not being able to get married, but that doesn’t mean it’s not Real Oppression(tm). Not that I’m saying that kink is inherently an axis of oppression, but I’m not really comfortable with saying “if it doesn’t have the same effects as racism, it doesn’t qualify as a form of oppression”.

          1. JKP*

            Right, people have been jailed because of their kink (not talking about pedo, I mean consenting adults who both enjoy s&m, but one ends up in jail because it gets reported as assault by someone outside the relationship). People have lost jobs (not talking about people like Sally trying to force others to participate, but people who are private about it and their secret still gets out). People have had their kids taken from them. That does seem to indicate that their civil rights have been violated for the mere fact they were into kink, if that’s what it takes to be legitimate oppression.

    1. ChimericalOne*

      I know some folks are disagreeing with your characterization of kink as marginalized, but I wanted to say that your larger point stands, regardless of what you ultimately decide about the marginalized or not-marginalized nature of the kink community. Being marginalized doesn’t make you a saint. But it can sometimes be really hard to discern whether a person from a marginalized community who seems to be acting out is “just a jerk” vs. scarred by experiencing daily bias and discrimination. (And on an internal basis… it’s hard to say whether you should excuse your own reactions to things as “only fair” based on what you’ve experienced vs. something you need to control. I try to err on the side of controlling myself, but I definitely sometimes do make nastier statements (esp. online) than I would if I wasn’t so tired of dealing with the $%^ I have to deal with. We all make mistakes, let down our guards, lash out sometimes.)

      But yep: ultimately, jerks come in all colors, sizes, and orientations. The only thing to do is to be kind but firm, as reasonable and fair as you can be with everyone, and to not generalize from one member of any community to all members (unless whatever behavior or philosophy you’re observing is actually a -hallmark- of that community, i.e., the Charlottesville tiki-torch folks).

    1. Cookie Monster*

      This made me cackle. Allison, in this vein, would you ever consider sending older letters *especially this one* over to other columnists like Daniel at Dear Prudence and reprinting their answers?

  14. Lady Phoenix*

    A quick reminder that kinks have to be between CONSENSUAL parties. People are allowed to not consent and it needs to be respected.

    Meanwhile, queer couples are NOT a kink. People HAVE to acknowledge their relationship, whether they want to or not.

    People with kinks try to weasel themselves into the Queer community all the time, especially people with illegal kinks (beastiality, neceophilia, pedophilia). And no, you don’t get to.

    1. Observer*

      It’s important to call out pedophillia. Whatever you want to say about the other stuff, (true) pedophillia is be its nature abusive.

      1. RUKiddingMe*

        I’d call out bestiality and necrophilia likewise. It’s not like a given animal or dead person can consent.

        1. Observer*

          True. But, one can make the argument that the dead person also can’t be hurt by it. And I suppose that it depends on how you view the emotional lives of animals.

          Don’t get me wrong. I’m not defending any of these practices, and I think they are all fundamentally different than any practice that involved 2 consenting competent adults. I’m just saying that pedophilia is just another layer where there is just no way to twist that one into being in any way semi-ok.

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      This is a good distinction: Your gender and sexual orientation are not kinks. Your thing for sex while wearing bunny suits is.

    3. Banana Pancakes*

      Please do not refer to pedophilia, bestiality, or necrophilia as a ‘kink’. Kinks are about consensual sexual exploration and lumping them in with these horrible criminal acts is not only inaccurate, it is actively harmful.

      Pedophilia is not about sex any more than rape is about sex. It’s about control. Pedophiles, like rapists, systematically pursue vulnerable, available targets. Even calling that an “illegal kink” is giving it too much legitimacy and it’s hurtful to people who have suffered at the hands of those kinds of abusers.

      I hope you don’t take this as an attack, because we agree overall. I just want to let you know that precise language around this issue is a good way to push back against these people trying to infiltrate the kink community.

      1. Just saying*

        You have the definitions wrong. Child sex abusers/rapists are predators and not necessarily attracted to children. Pedophiles are sexually attracted to children but they may or may not act on it. Some of them never do. Pedophilia is a sexual orientation and pedophiles don’t choose it. The only thing they can do is suppress their urges (which they should and many do).

  15. dangling legs*

    hahaha! I read the title and thought to myself “NO! I can NOT believe it happened again!”

    Enjoy the day off Allison!

  16. Close Bracket*

    From the update:

    “it’s tempting to think that she was trying to “freak the mundane,” as some commenters suggested, or just wanted to see how far she could push the lines.”

    Or maybe she just wanted to live her live the way she wanted to live it. Ultimately, I guess she decided that since corporate America, even liberal LGBTQ+ corporate America, wasn’t going to allow her the freedom to do that, she decided to freelance. Good for her.

      1. M&Ms fix lots of Problems*

        This. You be you, but do not force me to be an unwilling participant in your private life.

        1. Murphy*

          Prior to that, she was insisting that they refer to him as her master, which exactly trying to force people to participate.

            1. M&Ms fix lots of Problems*

              No worries – I’ve had a nesting fail or two of my own as well.

          1. RVA Cat*

            Plus the term “master” is so…loaded. The sex part is icky enough but is she trying to force this on co-workers of color?

        2. RUKiddingMe*

          Exactly. The thing is “husband/wife/so, etc.” do imply sex happens but it’s not the *only* thing that happens. A D/s relationship, whether sex is the only thing happening or not comes across as *primarily* about the sex.

          Trying to force others to call your partner “master,” talking about your “master” all the time, etc., etc., etc. is making someone participate without their consent. It’s forcing it on them and I would argue sexual harassment.

      2. Close Bracket*

        I beg your pardon? She quit and freelanced. That’s the exact opposite of forcing non-consenting bystanders to participate in her kink (which is an assessment that I don’t fully agree with, but that’s not my point here).

        1. Close Bracket*

          That’s the exact opposite of forcing non-consenting bystanders to participate in her kink *in the workplace,* that is.

        2. Environmental Compliance*

          That’s….not what was being forced, at all. The forced participation came in when she wanted everyone else to call her Master by title of Master rather than his name, simply partner, etc. He was not *their* Master, and they did not consent to being part of that dynamic.

          If you and I were friendly, and you had introduced your person of whatever kind to me as your Master, okay, cool, more power to you. However, I will not call your Master “Master”, as they are not *my* master, and I do not want to be in that sort of relationship with that person. I am *not* consenting to that dynamic for *my* personal relationships.

        3. Observer*

          Sure, she decided to freelance. The idea that she needed to do that so she could be free is nonsense though. She wanted to force everyone into participating in her relationship dynamic. And, as others pointed out, that goes into “your freedom to swing your fist ends at the end of my nose.” Liberal or not, no sane workplace should be allowing ANYONE to force others into their personal relationship dynamic.

          This is the same reason why you don’t expect people to talk about your “lover” (or other titles people mentioned.) And it’s also the reason you don’t allow spouses or parents to resign or take other job actions for their (competent) spouses / adult children. You and your relative have this relationship where you make the decisions? That’s between you, and do whatever you want. Don’t expect the rest of the world to partake.

        4. CmdrShepard4ever*

          Sally did ultimately quit so yes she did not end up forcing coworkers to participate in her kink, but the initial everyone should call my master master as well was trying to force people into her kink. I think it would be different people were saying the master/sub relationship is not real, or he isn’t really your master, and they refused to refer to him as master.

          If Sally can find an employer where people are happy to refer to her master as master, good for her. But that does not mean that the people in this work place were being unreasonable. They were not refusing Peter/master access to events where other coworkers SO’s/partners/spouses were allowed, they were not telling Peter and Sally not to engage in the 24/7 dom/sub relationship during work outings.

        5. Jadelyn*

          The only reason she decided to freelance was because she had *already tried* to force people to participate in her kink, and failed to do so. This wasn’t a principled stand of “rather than force people to participate in my kink in the workplace, I’ll go freelance!” This was a frustrated flounce-out of “How dare you not let me force you to participate in my kink in the workplace? Fine, I guess I’ll go freelance then!”

          1. Lady Phoenix*

            Fine. I’ll make my own company… with Masters! And Blackjack!

            Eh… forget the Blackjack.

    1. skarlatha*

      Sally is free to live her life however she wants to live it, but so are her co-workers who want to live their lives by not being involved in someone else’s kink. Her desire to have her co-workers use a nonstandard, work-inappropriate title doesn’t trump the co-workers’ desires to stay out of that dynamic.

    2. fposte*

      Nobody was objecting to her living her life the way she wanted. The problem was that she had requirements about others had to live theirs. That’s why the kink collar letter went a different way than this one.

      If Sally’s happier freelancing, I agree that’s a win-win; I think it’s even harder to get clients to conform than it is co-workers, though, so I think her best bet there would either be to operate remotely or through a service so that the issue doesn’t come up again or to focus on serving the kink community, where it’s less likely to be an issue.

    3. Jamey*

      And her coworkers, apparently, wanted to live their lives the way they wanted to live: not participating in someone else’s D/s relationship at work. Pretty reasonable.

    4. Observer*

      Oh, give me a break. No one was asking her to change her relationship. All people asked was to not be part of it. That’s a totally reasonable thing to ask.

  17. Liane*

    The report who claimed to be some unspecified kind of magic-user and was literally cursing her coworkers (or threatening to do so) is my favorite, but this one is in second place.

    1. Liane*

      Was supposed to be a replay to MuseumChick’s post way above.
      (Is “your comment box hates me & messes with my posts at least once a week” something I should report as a tech issue?)

    1. Jadelyn*

      My other half will jokingly refer to me as “sugartits” sometimes. Can’t remember where we got that from, but it used to be a reference to…something.

      1. fposte*

        The Crazy Ex-Girlfriend song “Settle for Me” uses “sugar jugs,” which I find hilarious.

      2. Light37*

        IRRC, Mel Gibson called a female police officer that when he was arrested for DUI back in 2006.

        1. Jadelyn*

          …it definitely wasn’t a reference to that! I want to say it was a webcomic or something?

      3. UKDancer*

        Jadelyn, if I remember correctly that’s what Dave Coaches calls Nessa in “Gavin and Stacey” Could it be that? I don’t know if you’re a fan but that’s the main context I’ve heard anyone use that.

        1. fposte*

          It’s complicated by the fact that a “sugar tit” was a very old term for basically a homemade pacifier, but I think even the term for a woman’s breasts goes back a lot farther than Gavin & Stacey. I’m seeing a 1987 use for that in Google Books, and “sugar britches” turns up in An Officer and a Gentleman in 1982, so I suspect “sugar tits” was floating around in the zeitgeist as well.

  18. Case of the Mondays*

    I absolutely am not into kink. Especially S/M or D/s stuff. To me it seems abusive. But if it’s consensual you’re doing it in the privacy of your own bedroom/lair/sex dungeon, then hey, whatever, go for it. As someone who happens to be celibate — and who would rather be in a relationship — I really don’t want to hear this kind of detail about my coworkers sexuality. Even if it was about a plain vanilla sex life.

    1. M&Ms fix lots of Problems*

      Yup – this is me too. If that makes me a prude, I will own it. Don’t care what your private life is – if you are happy and safe and legally able to consent, you do you, but I really don’t want any “private” details from anybody.

    2. Lady Phoenix*

      Um… people in relationships CAN have a kinky lifestyle too.

      You make is sound like we just tie up and boink every bloke who decks themselves out in leather.

      1. Vicky Austin*

        That’s not what Case Of The Mondays was saying at all. He was saying that he wants to be in a relationship, but he isn’t at the moment.

  19. agnes*

    Some people just love to see how far they can go with outrageous requests. Glad the manager stood her ground and best wishes to Sally in living the life she wants to live.

  20. Jennifer*

    Disappointed this wasn’t another update.

    I’m the type of person that would have had no problem calling Peter “master” simply because it’s HIGH-larious. “What did you and master think about Avengers Endgame?” “Is master making something for the company potluck barbecue? Last year master’s potato salad was to die for!” “What up, master!”

    1. Not A Manager*

      This would be my response too. I wouldn’t even say it ironically, although I can envision a world of whining if all the coworkers DID agree to call him “master” and did so with emphasis, at every opportunity. Somehow I think Sally would voice objections.

      “Hi Sally. What did you and M-m-m-maaaaaster do this weekend?”

  21. Wheels*

    Sounds like she’d fit right in at Steele’s pots and pans. Although Belinda would be all over that situation in no time.

    1. Ell*

      Belinda would probably just blink about it, and then her anatomy would do something horrifying.

  22. ThinMint*

    When I first discovered AAM and started binge reading posts, this one stood out. It became one of the few I used as an example when I evangelized others to start reading AAM too.

  23. Falling Diphthong*

    This letter is also a helpful reminder that most things involving human interactions need to hit a happy medium. “Call people what they want to be called” is a fine principle right up until that’s “Daddy” or “Supreme Being” or “Dogfood” and then you can nope right out of that rule.

    And the story behind so many mysterious rules in the employee handbook. “Yeah, newbie, you wouldn’t think that would need to be spelled out. But Fergus was before your time…”

    1. M&Ms fix lots of Problems*

      I think that at some point in time all of us have or will have that one co-worker who creates the need for common sense to be written down and codified.

  24. MaureenC*

    Considering the history of the United States, I feel like Sally could’ve used some racial sensitivity training.

  25. Candy*

    If she wants to have that kind of relationship privately, then that’s fine. But it’s rude and gross to involve other people in it. Please don’t do that, keep it private ffs.

  26. ItsNotMeItsYou*

    Wow. Truly bizarre. I see this was resolved, but my initial reaction would be to say, “Why should I call him Master? He’s your master, not mine.”

  27. Book Badger, Attorney-at-Claw*

    I am in a kinky relationship and pretty involved with my local community, and oh god do people like Sally annoy me. Not only am I highkey against any kind of public display of kink where vanillas might see (in the same way I am against, say, introducing your partner to your parents as “snookums” – it’s tacky and embarrassing), but I’m also against acting like there’s a dynamic in place unless all parties have agreed to that dynamic. Meaning that, outside of very specific contexts (parties where that is explicitly the theme), no one is my dom without us both agreeing, and no one is my sub without us both agreeing. Meaning that, no, I’m not going to call your partner “master,” because he isn’t my master. To me he is Bob and I shall call him Bob.

    1. L. S. Cooper*

      Ooh, I hadn’t even thought of this, but it’s such a good person. What if there was another sub in the office? That’s not *their* master. Such an overreach.

      1. Book Badger, Attorney-at-Claw*

        Exactly! Or what if they’re a dom, and are the ones who want to be called master/mistress/an appropriate title? Still obnoxious, and still involving others in your relationship dynamic.

        (Incidentally, I’m the dom in my relationship, which to us involves no titles because titles give me hives. So someone pulling this routine on me would not only be forcing me into a power dynamic I don’t want, but also into a form of that dynamic that I don’t want.)

    2. whingedrinking*

      In *extremely* limited fairness, I got the vibe that Sally intended for this to be a term of referral rather than address; that is, she’d expect them to say “your master” as a direct swap for “your boyfriend” or “your partner”, not that everyone else would call him Master. (The letter’s not clear on whether they could just refer to him as Peter.)

  28. I was young once*

    I always wondered if they ever addressed the “yes master” thing when he came to events. Just so weird to do at work.

  29. 2 cents*

    I actually worked with someone who, whenever someone referred to her husband, would correct them and say, “He’s not my husband, he’s my lover!” She was an older woman, in her early sixties. I think it disconcerted people but no one ever said anything to her about it.

    1. Observer*

      I think I would be tempted to give her a puzzled look and say “What?” And if she repeated it “What does that have to do with anything?”

    2. Asenath*

      One of our temporary workers said to us that she was meeting her common-law after work. Common-law marriage has probably been legally recognized here since the first Europeans arrived, and is more popular now than it ever has been, but I’ve never heard that term. People who live common-law use a wide range of terms to refer to the other person, from husband or wife to spouse to partner, possibly even boy/girlfriend or live-in or lover, well, you get the idea. No one said anything – I mean, it was perfectly clear who she was referring to, but it was certainly unusual.

      1. Former Employee*

        This makes no sense. One of the ways that you get a common law marriage recognized as being legitimate under the law is by holding yourselves out to be a married couple. She should be taking every opportunity to refer to him as her husband and he should be referring to her as his wife every chance he gets.

        Note: This only works if the state you live in is one of the handful that does recognize common law marriage.

    3. Bowserkitty*

      You could be talking about my mother. lmao
      Although to be fair, she always called (and still does, now that they have been married a year) him her “sweetie” aside from anything else.
      It’s terribly cringey…

  30. Chimera*

    As someone who has been in the lifestyle for years and years, and as someone who has a Master with whom I share a deep and loving relationship, this letter always annoyed the piss out of me.

    BDSM is a huge spectrum of a community. Some people are in it for the physical kink, some are in it for the deeply emotional intimacy, and some, like the op seem to be in it for the theatrics and shock value.

    The trouble with people like this is that it has the potential to reduce all of us to caricatures. They tend to be the folks who want to make a show of their naughtiness and then cry foul when people don’t want to hear it, or worse, don’t care.

    Most of us that live the lifestyle are just regular people. My partner and I do regular things. We grumble and fuss at each other like everyone else from time to time, it’s just that the balance of power in our relationship is different than the norm.

    Would I wave my D/s banner about with friends or coworkers to be provocative or push the envelope? Good god, no. Not a chance. It would cheapen something that is profoundly meaningful and make it more about the theatrics than the relationship.

    As a final note, I work as an executive level professional in a relatively liberal and laid back setting. I wear a very simple thin leather collar daily. No one has really ever questioned it, although I do see people noticing it from time to time. I expect most folks think I’m just very attached to the ’90s choker trend. :) Point being, there are subtle ways to honour the relationship without being blatant about it.

  31. Luna*

    “he was her “master,” and needed to be referred to as such.”
    Nope. This has nothing to do with work, I am not going to play along with your kink.

    “but I can’t really articulate why.”
    She is forcing her kink on other people, who are not participating, and don’t want to participate. It’s just like a gay person (or any other type of non-heteronormative person) *constantly* bringing up their orientation and exact details about all the going-ons of how their sexual/romantic orientation fits into their life.
    It’s just like an employee who cannot stop talking about a personal life thing over and over, and keeps bringing it up. It gets annoying, and it has no business at work.

    1. Vicky Austin*

      Or like the Evangelical Christian my mother once worked with and who was engaged and waiting until her wedding night to have sex for the first time; and felt the need every day to inform the entire office how many more days left until she would lose her virginity. TMI isn’t limited to “liberals” or people in non-traditional relationships.

        1. Vicky Austin*

          That was exactly my mom’s reaction. It’s inappropriate for Sally the sub, and it’s also inappropriate for Veronica the virgin.

  32. Your Hometown Banker*

    This letter reminds me of a situation at work, actually. I am a personal banker, and we personal bankers get to see a lot of information about client accounts without much digging, regardless of where you bank at.

    That includes nicknames you set for your accounts online and your online banking user ID. I used to have a customer come in, I would pull her up, and always get jarred by the “Master” next to one account she is on and “slave” the other.

    I never bring it up (as long as it’s not hate language or illegal in any way somehow, I figure someone should be allowed to pretend their online settings are totally private if they don’t know otherwise?) but yeah. Your account nicknames and user IDs are not private, everyone.

  33. Bridget*

    This is the one that introduced me to AAM because the link was posted everywhere. And for that, I thank Sally for having such an outlandish view on workplace etiquette.

  34. Jennifer Juniper*

    I can imagine the damage Sally is doing to her professional reputation! Ick.

Comments are closed.