From May 1-17, Dottie Dixon, a game-changer of the highest order, takes the stage nightly at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center in Salt Lake City in her one-woman show, The Passion of Sister Dottie S. Dixon, which chronicles her experiences as the activist Mormon mother of a gay son.
Sister Dottie, who lives with her husband of 38 years, Don, on what she describes as "a lovely little cul de sac" in Spanish Fork, Utah, about ten miles south of "the BYU," approaches the Mormon church's anti-gay positions from the unassailable mountaintop of a mother who loves her child. And she comes at it from the inside, as a tenth-generation Mormon whose great-great grandfather, Heber Orson Maxwell O'Donovan, migrated to Utah, across the plains as a Mormon pioneer in 1847 with none other than Brigham Young himself, the second prophet, seer, and revelator of the Mormon Church.
Her show, a comedy with what she describes as "moments of poignancy," addresses the controversy of Sister Dottie's stubborn refusal to accept the Mormon church's anti-gay positions. "I can't choose between my church and my child," she said last week when I spoke to her on the phone between rehearsals for her show. "My church wants me to choose. I don't do that."
Passionate as she is about her cause, Dottie is not an angry woman. She is a funny woman, which may be the only way to build a bridge over the fissure she feels between her religious faith and her family. Asked how she came to the decision to take her story to the stage, she tells me, "After my popularity grew from my weekly radio show What Not, What Have You, and Such as That, with Sister Dottie S. Dixon on local progressive radio station KRCL, I prayed over the kitchen sink and thirty seconds later the garbage disposal came on all by itself. I took that as a sign."
In her one-woman show about her life and times, Dottie describes how her son, Donnie P. Dixon, who today is 33 and "lives in a loft with his dog, Javier," came out as gay when he was 16 years old. "When he told me he was gay, it shocked me completely," she says. "My dream was that he'd grow up as a righteous Mormon boy and marry a temple-worthy woman and have a big family."
After what she describes as a "horrible scene," she and Donnie P. made up, and Dottie began to acknowledge that her son's dreams would not be her own. "We have to allow each child to have their own dreams," Dottie said. "I told Donnie P., 'I am going to help you achieve your dreams, not the ones I had planned for you." She also feels "Heavenly Father sent a gay baby into our family-as a blessing."
"The Church tells parents that they don't have to accept gay and lesbian children into their lives, don't have to include them in family gatherings, don't have to take them on vacations. That's caddywampus," Dottie says.
Dottie says that her conversion from loving mother to gay rights activist came when she and her friend, Sister Dartsy FoxMoreland, were "on a weekend getaway for pampering and nickel slots ('the Church looks the other way if it's nickels'), and got all turned-around, direction-wise." The two women ended up in Black Rock City, Nevada, during the Burning Man Festival, where they met Linda Ted, "an elderly transgendered shaman from Eugene, Oregon." It was after this encounter, Dottie explains, that she realized her mission was to "bring the Mormons and gays back together."
Before the stage lit her way, Dottie's mission took her down a number of side roads and dead-ends, including "A personal appeal to the Mormon Church leadership that consisted of baking a bunch of casseroles. We thought if we fed them good Mormonly mother casseroles for their lunch, they would listen, and it would help. We didn't get past the Church's Sacred Security. We got kicked out."
She says her protesting landed her in the Utah Women's correctional facility for three days. "I am an advocate for many things," she says. "Gay rights, women's rights, homeless rights, Specific-Islanders, and all them illegal Hispanish immigrants...I love them all, really, truly I do, but gay rights got me off my behind, out of the house, and on my way to achieving my special purpose in life."
In her show, she describes how Donnie P., who today works as "a cartographic designer inside a company," grew up in Spanish Fork as a "cowboy at heart." But that "gay was a hard way to be." She says Donnie joined the Boy Scouts and "his merit badges were not the ones most boys got. He got his tap dancing merit badge. If you weren't into baseball, rodeo, or scouting, you pretty much were an outcast."
In speaking to her about her show and Donnie P., I came to appreciate that Dottie is crusading for a Mormon woman's rights, too. "The Church says only a man can receive a revelation. They say a woman has never received a revelation. My heart longs for more than what the Church allows. Even a tidbit or snippet will do.
"I am not educated, I am not worldly-wise or experiential-wise, but I know what's true."
The Passion of Sister Dottie S. Dixon, produced by Pygmalion Theatre Company, runs from May 1-17 at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center in Salt Lake City, starring Sister Dottie Dixon, accompanied by Sister Dartsy Foxmoreland on the piano. ("We Mormons can't do anything without accompaniment," Dottie says.) Sister Dottie's website is www.sisterdottie.com