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In Print: Sunny Chapman's strong medicine

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In late 1994 Sunny Chapman's boyfriend learned that the skin cancer he'd had years before had now spread to his brain, lungs, and bones. Though he had a bevy of symptoms, the extent of his illness went undiagnosed for months because he had no health insurance. As she searched for competent and cheap doctors to care for her boyfriend, Chapman wondered why they were so hard to find. Angry and frustrated, she decided to compile her own guide to low-cost and free health care in Chicago.

Halfway through she put the project on hold to nurse her boyfriend around the clock. A month after his death a year ago February, Chapman assuaged her grief by finishing the pamphlet.

The result is To Your Health, a self-published free handout that lists public and private clinics and cross-references services according to specialty--like reproductive health, AIDS, rape, drug treatment, and psychiatry. Chapman also offers tips on how to get treated.

She spent more than a hundred hours compiling the guide, yet it's only one of the many causes that Chapman's devoted herself to, going all the way back to the Vietnam war.

As one of the founding members of the Chicago chapter of the Women's Action Coalition, Chapman has masterminded many of the group's prochoice activities, spending most Saturdays for two years guarding the American Women's Health Center at Western and Diversey. She plans to write another pamphlet denouncing one of the antiabortionists' most egregious claims, linking abortion to breast cancer. "It's just not true at all. It's a scare tactic and plays on the emotions of women seeking abortions," she says. "Women need to know what gives them breast cancer, like smoking and eating animal products."

In the 80s Chapman conducted a more anonymous assault against the tobacco industry. A reformed smoker living in New York at the time, she'd slap stickers on ads in the subway stating "You won't die pretty" and "You give them money and they give you cancer."

In the 90s Chapman continued dispensing street art as a member of SisterSerpents, plastering Chicago with virulently antipatriarchal Day-Glo stickers.

A variation on this theme is her recently published all-female zine I Hate You--Love Stories From Hell, in which contributors purge tales of torrid love affairs in graphic detail. One unnamed writer illustrated her story "Michael" with nine explicit color photos of a surgical procedure used to remove tumors from her uterus. Later that same day the author had an abortion. The father was a former lover whom she'd been involved with for only a month. "The writer needed help and the guy just wasn't around," Chapman says. "The pictures were included so people would understand how painful and scary it was."

Kate Kirtz's story "Are You Dickwhipped?" gives sound advice on avoiding such an affliction. Director of the film Jane, about the local abortion referral service that operated in the days before Roe, Kirtz recommends starting out a relationship with a strong sense of self and circumcising dick-whipping behavior when it rears its ugly head. "My boyfriend of six months asked me if I'd give him a dinner "to go' to eat back at his house while he worked. I said no, because I wasn't a carry-out joint," she writes. "Oh, and did I mention the above behavior will eliminate misogynists from your dating pool?"

At least one reader has benefited by Kirtz's tough talk, reports Chapman. A Streetwise vendor was having trouble with a man she lived with at an SRO; he was hitting her and bringing home other women. After hearing her story, Chapman's daughter, Emily, stuffed a complimentary copy of I Hate You into the woman's hands and told her to read Kirtz's article. Chapman says the woman was so inspired she finally gave the guy an ultimatum.

Though Chapman herself wrote one of the zine's anonymous "emotional and gnarly" stories, she prefers to keep its identity a secret. "Just saying I wrote one of them is pretty yin," she teases. "If you're smart, you can figure out which one it is."

Unlike To Your Health, each copy of I Hate You costs $3. You can find both at Earwax, Quimby's, Myopic Books, and Reckless Records. You can also get the pamphlet by sending a self-addressed stamped envelope to Chapman at 1573 N. Milwaukee, PO Box 420, Chicago, IL 60622.

--Michelle Litvin

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Nathan Mandell.

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