Why I don’t use the term “TBM”

TBMWhat the heck is a TBM?

In progressive Mormon circles, TBM is shorthand often used to describe members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) who attend church regularly, follow church standards and have orthodox views about gospel doctrine. No one seems to know for sure what it abbreviated originally but most people say it stands for either “True Blue Mormon” or “True Believing Mormon.”

 Why I don’t say TBM

  1. It is a pejorative; most often used by progressive and post Mormons to describe people they see as less enlightened, less open-minded and more judgmental than themselves.
  2. No one self-identifies as TBM (at least, not in the present tense). I have met many, many active church members, and not a single one of them has described themselves to me as TBM. I do occasionally hear people describe themselves as former TBMs, but did any of them ever call themselves that when they were in that mental space? I don’t think so.
  3. It “others” people and stereotypes them. Contrary to the assumptions of some, many of the people who participate in progressive Mormon circles, including myself, do participate in the church organization in a way that could cause others to describe us as TBM. Not every progressive Mormon you meet on the internet is the same; nor is everyone who inhabits a brick and mortar church building.

Why I don’t stop others from saying it

  1. Most people who say it don’t mean to be offensive. I anticipate that several comments on this post will come from people explaining that they say TBM and don’t mean anything bad by it. I believe you.
  2. Conversations about orthodoxy are hard; even harder if someone is policing you and derailing the conversation to scold you for using inelegant terminology.
  3. The term provides a shorthand way to convey a lot of meaning quickly. And I get it, a three-letter term is much easier to type (and read) than a more nuanced but much longer essay.
  4. Many of the terms that active church members do use to describe themselves would not work. Faithful? Like other people aren’t faithful? Saints? Yeah, right. And now we can’t even say Mormon anymore!

So if the term TBM falls off your lips (or your keyboard) in my presence, don’t expect any objection on my part. But I would invite you, right now, to take a moment and consider some questions.

  1. If you usually grant people the respect of calling them by the self-identifiers they choose for themselves, why wouldn’t you in this case?
  2. If you don’t intend to be offensive, is it wise to use a term that is most often applied in rants or complaints and virtually never to say something complimentary?
  3. Don’t you think you’re being a bit judgmental, when you label all of those other people as judgmental?
  4. Is there any other way to express your meaning that doesn’t lump so many passive bystanders, perhaps even some of the people you are talking to, into one big stereotype?

April Young Bennett

April Young Bennett is the author of the Ask a Suffragist book series and host of the Religious Feminism Podcast. Learn more about April at aprilyoungb.com.

You may also like...

10 Responses

  1. Thanks for this. I especially like your point that it is hard to talk about orthodoxy and that by using other terms that orthodox Mormons might use for themselves, they also exclude other people who would also claim that label.

  2. violadiva says:

    Yes, its usefulness as a label has worn out, and has now become a way to categorize people broadly without really taking the time to digest how they think about a variety of topics.

    I’m pretty sure it originates from the story of Joseph F Smith, “are you a mormon?”

    “Yes siree; dyed in the wool, true blue, through and through.”

    I have friends who are progressive feminists who describe themselves as True Blue Mormons (in the context they they were born Mormon and will be forever, even with a variety beliefs on the spectrum) who really dislike TBM as a pejorative for rigidly orthodox beliefs or practices. It doesn’t necessarily match their experience, but they’re just as “true blue” as someone in the mainstream.

    • Hannah says:

      I think that another term would just take its place. It’s a pretty generous term. I think we do need a way to refer in general to the type of mainstream Mormon that makes many of us feel so unsafe.

      • Violadiva says:

        minus the ones a person uses to self-identify, I think using any label that short-cuts actually getting to know a person in favor of lumping them together in a group with a name that has positive connotations for some and negative connotations for others can lead to unnuanced dismissiveness when considering that person as an individual. I think that’s a generally unfavorable dynamic in relationships and communication patterns.

  3. Hannah says:

    I disagree. I’m glad that the author pointed out that she’s never ask anyone else to refrain from using it because it’s an easy way to shorthand and in these kind of spaces most everyone will know what you mean. And if you’re a “TBM” in this group who can’t see why people would need to come up with a word, maybe spend more time thinking about how the church and its members have seriously harmed so many. And I cringe at treating Mormons or any Christians like a marginalized class. Referring to someone as TBM isn’t at all the same as misgendering or using a racial slur. Just IMHO

  4. Anna says:

    Just as when all car transitions were “standard” we didn’t need a word for a standard transmission, when people are true believing, or true blue Mormons, they don’t bother to call themselves that, because they see it as all there is. They are Mormon. You are either TBM (Mormon, or whatever prophet followers are calling themselves now days) or apostate. Frankly, find what TBMs would call me to be much more offensive than calling someone TBM.

    So, now that there are New Order Mormons, progressive Mormons, Jack Mormons, inactive Mormons, semi active Mormons, liberal Mormons, and post Mormons, how do you suggest that us partial Mormons label Mormons who are still fully in and fully prophet following to differentiate them from all of us half out the door Mormons? This is a serious question. What do you propose?

    Our current prophet is bothered because *SOME* people use the term “Mormon” as a derogatory term. So, he doesn’t want us to use it. But it becomes like the word “cemetery.” We used to call it a grave yard, but that was spooky because that is where dead people are buried. Now “cemetery” is spooky, so it is “Memorial gardens.” Pretty soon “memorial gardens” will become a spooky word and we will have to find another word for where we bury dead people. I agree with Juliet. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

    My husband is TBM and I love him to pieces and would never use a term I felt that insulted him. Sure, some people are going to use it as an insult because they think anyone who is loyal to the LDS church is stupid. Those people will use any term you want to call “prophet following believing Mormons” as an insult because they have no respect for any kind of believing Mormon. Changing the term will not change how they use the new term as an insult, any more that not using “Mormon” will convince Evangelicals that we are really Christian.

    A Tiger by another name still has stripes and changing what you call it won’t make people who are terrified of tigers change their minds and think huge striped pussy cats are friendly. Changing what us “apostates” call TBMs won’t make the haters respect TBMs and it will just take away a term that us half out the door Mormons use to say that people are still fully in. Just like calling “Mormons” members of the restored Church of J. C. of L D S will only confuse people who still want to define us as different than they are.

  5. Anna says:

    Oh, and when my husband is around alternate Mormons, he does call himself TBM to differentiate himself from those of us who are culturally Mormon or semi, kinda Mormon, but no longer fully in.

  6. On social media, some people have called me out for Question 1, which they see as disrespectful to marginalized genders/sexual orientations. I appreciate that feedback, and acknowledge and apologize for my blind spot as a cis hetero woman in that regard. What I was thinking of when I wrote the post was not related to gender identification at all, but to my work with religious activists from a variety of faith communities which requires me to learn how people choose to be identified religiously instead of labeling them. But again, I am sure that if it weren’t for my blind spot as a cis hetero woman, I would have foreseen that I should have phrased that differently.

    I would like to reiterate that while I am advising against the use of the term TBM in this post, I do not see the use of the word TBM to be as serious an offense as the persecution of marginalized communities, and that is one of the reasons why I stated that I do not find it necessary to try to stop others from saying it.

  7. Now I just want to know which kind of church member I am. Anyone have a Buzzfeed quiz I can take??

  8. Evangelina Voz says:

    What a very thought producing post. Thank you! I feel every single point and comment here has merit. I agree I can be a bit more respectful in how I talk about orthodox members, but also agree that they do use the offensive label apostate for anyone who disagrees with them and that is so very hateful and judgemental that TBM IS generous in comparison.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.