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

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Remember the letter-writer whose coworker wanted everyone to call her boyfriend her “master”? Of course you do — how could you not! Here’s the update.

First I wanted to thank both you and the commenters for your feedback–it really made me (and my coworker, Sally’s direct manager), feel somewhat less bonkers. (To be clear, the coworker/Sally’s boss knew that I was going to send the letter, as we’d been discussing the issue between ourselves; in fact, I suggested she write to you, but she was feeling a little shy about writing to an advice blogger she didn’t know, so I did it. She read over the letter & responses, though, and was grateful too.)

In the interim between sending the letter and the response, we had already told the staff that no, they definitely didn’t need to refer to Peter as “master,” but could simply call him by name. (As others have speculated, the reason the issue came to a head at all was because Sally brought Peter up *a lot.* Many of my coworkers, I barely know what their spouses are named… but anyway.) The actual result was that people basically just avoided Sally for all social conversations, interacting with her on only on and about work projects.

After reading the letter and responses, my coworker decided that Sally really needed a direct talking-to about it. She went in with the same arguments that people suggested: that we respected her relationship, but that some details of relationships are appropriate for the workplace and some are not, and insisting on certain titles can fall into that ‘details’ category. She used the example that we would of course always refer to people by the correct gender, and would never say “friend” or “roommate” if “boyfriend” or “partner” or “husband” was correct, but that on the other hand it would be inappropriate to call someone “my lover” or “my binkie-boo” in the office, that that is a level of intimate detail that your coworker does not need or want.

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. (No, really.) For what it’s worth, I get the impression that Sally was not so much naive or lacking in common sense as deliberately pushing the boundary for some reason of her own.

My coworker said that she had every right to feel that way, but at the workplace, “master” (and “schmooples” and “fuckbuddy”) were not appropriate; that Peter could be referred to as Peter or as her partner or as her boyfriend or as her friend or as any of a variety of options or not at all, but that “master” was inappropriate, and that this was a very, very common stance for even a very liberal company to take and that Sally had probably ought to learn to adjust to it.

(Not gonna lie, it has been so hard the past few weeks to not say “my lovaaaaah” instead of “my partner.” I have refrained.)

Sally threatened to go over her head, but from what I hear, the big boss just shut her down with a “your manager’s word stands on this issue and I see no reason to talk to you about it.” Not too long after, Sally quit; I don’t know where she is, but I’ve heard through the grapevine that she’s freelancing.

So that’s the update. I still don’t know exactly what point Sally was trying to make–our organization is really quite liberal and has a lot of GLBTQIA+ employees (myself included) but there are still lines. She was trying to push one, I suppose. I don’t get the impression that this was masterminded by Peter–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.

update: my coworker wants us to call her boyfriend her “master” was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.

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December 6, 2016 at 05:01AM

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