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Sex and the Kinsey guy: while sexual fluidity may attract talented actors like Kinsey's Peter Sarsgaard, it seems to frighten away audiences--and Oscar voters. The actor and his openly gay directors speculate on why. Hollywood's attention.

When Hilary Swank was preparing for her role in Million Dollar Baby--the award-winning film about a young female boxer--the actress turned to a real-life champ for pointers: lesbian professional fighter Ann Marie Saccurato.

Swank, who won the 1999 Best Actress Academy Award for playing trans-gender Brandon Teena in Boys Don't Cry, trained long and hard for her performance in Baby. Part of her research for the role included accompanying a coach to one of Saccurato's fights, after which actor and athlete met.

Swank asked Saccurato and her partner of two years, amateur boxer Angel Bovee, questions on a variety of topics, including weight classes and female boxers not getting the support of male boxers. "She trained as a boxer," Bovee says, "and has the heart of a boxer."

Saccurato and Bovee hope that favorable buzz about the movie inspires other women to take up the gloves. They have been fighting for female boxers to receive the same recognition, opportunities, and money as men.

"It's important for us to try to legitimize women's boxing and show the world how much and how hard we train," says Saccurato, 27, often ranked as one of the top two female boxers in the world. "We want to show everybody that women can be as skillful as men. We sweat as much as the guys and bleed the same blood that male boxers bleed."

The couple met in 2000 at the USA Nationals in Midland, Texas. They were in the same weight class and lost to the same boxer, but they didn't face each other in a bout. Both from New York, the women exchanged telephone numbers to spar once back home. Two years passed before Bovee finally went to Saccurato's apartment to spar one Friday--and she didn't leave until Monday. "We just kind of fell in love," says Bovee, the 2004 National Golden Gloves champion. "I left to train for three weeks, but then I came back and kept on coming back."

As out lesbians, they have experienced both discrimination and acceptance in the sport. Both have lost coaches because they're lesbians, but they have been accepted by most of the other female boxers. "The straight women really have to have a lot of self-esteem too," says Bovee, 32, "because being gay is a stereotype of women boxers, for whatever reason."

Antigay discrimination isn't overt in women's boxing, says Christy Halbert, author of The Ultimate Boxer and an elite-level amateur boxing coach. "I have never heard of [an amateur being] denied the right to box because of sexual orientation," she says. "On the professional side, that has happened. You get promoters who feel a seemingly heterosexual boxer is more marketable than a seemingly gay boxer."

When amateur female boxers go professional they can't expect the impressive fees their male counterparts command. Saccurato has been paid as little as $100 for a four-round fight and offered $5,000 for a 10-round title fight-amounts she characterizes as unimaginably low in men's professional boxing.

"Almost every professional woman boxer has to have a full-time job to support her," Bovee says. Saccurato's "second full-time" gig is as a professional trainer and fitness instructor. Bovee looks for sponsors because she pays her own way to enter amateur bouts.

Neither Saccurato nor Bovee received much help as a boxing beginner. Saccurato, who played basketball and softball in college, had her first bout in 2000 at the New York Golden Gloves, where she came in second despite her inexperience. She concedes that during her two years as an amateur she lacked style because she didn't receive much coaching.

"I fought--I didn't box," Saccurato says. "I didn't do anything near boxing. I was kind of like the Tasmanian Devil in the ring. I won, but I wish that I had won with a little more style. It wasn't pretty."

Bovee also had trouble breaking into the sport. She initially trained under a kickboxing coach, and she went to many of her first bouts alone. "I had to look far and wide even to find other women boxers, let alone stories on women's boxing or any women's boxing on television," says Bovee, a former television producer for a Fox affiliate in Albany, N.Y.

Women's boxing was included in the 1904 Olympics as a demonstration sport but hasn't been part of the Olympics since. In October 1993, USA Boxing lifted its ban on women in the sport. In 2005 boxing's national governing body counts almost 2,000 female members.

Bovee hopes to attend the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Olympic officials have promised that all sports in the future will have both men's and women's divisions, according to USA Boxing. "Angel is a good role model for younger boxers," says Halbert, Bovee's mentor and former coach. "She definitely is a self-starter and a good example of perseverance."

Saccurato and Bovee currently train under Luigi Olcese at the New York Boxing Gym in Yonkers. Sometimes finding worthy adversaries is a challenge, Olcese says. To fight more often, Saccurato has taken on boxers in heavier weight classes--and won.

"She'll go through a wall if you ask her to do it," Olcese says. "Ann Marie is fierce, highly competitive, and when she enters the ring she's 100% go."

Henneman has written for the San Francisco Chronicle.
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Title Annotation:The Hollywood Issue
Author:Henneman, Todd
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2005
Words:879
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