The first time I saw two men kissing was on the 6 o'clock news. I was 9 years old, a fourth grader, and couldn't take my eyes off of the bearded men. Wide-eyed and speechless, I looked toward both sides of the living room, hoping someone in my family would give me some clarification. My older sister was on the phone, completely engrossed in her teenage banter, while my little sister worked intensely on her pony puzzle.
The men on the screen broke away from each other and then began to answer the newswoman's questions.
"So how long have you two been together and what brought you to San Francisco Pride?" asked the pinched and pale reporter.
"We just met," announced one of the guys in a British accent.
Wanting some answers, I crossed the living room and stepped into the kitchen.
My mom was pulling the garlic bread out of the oven when I began to tell her about the two men, who had just met, and were kissing like men and women did in the movies.
My mom set the hot bread on the yellow-tiled counter, her expression joyous.
"Sometimes," she started to say, "men kiss men and women kiss women and there's nothing wrong with that. Sadly though, not all countries allow men to kiss men or women to kiss women. So, they come to San Francisco to be free... That's what 'pride' means -- it means freedom."
Since that day, I looked at the Pride events as a parade for freedom. And as I got older and began to date men, I always thought about those two bearded guys on the evening news -- especially since I, too, hoped to have a little freedom to kiss a stranger during Pride.
But for good or for ill, I always had a boyfriend around the Pride festivities and it wasn't until I was blind that I attended San Francisco Pride as a single dude.
As I stood on Market Street with my white cane, listening to the parade go by, I wondered if I would meet a guy. Nestled amongst a boisterous group of lesbians, I reflected on how hard it is to meet people in public when you can't see. Suddenly, I felt a hand tug at my arm.
"Belo," my friend Heather called, "there's this guy I want you to meet. He's hot!"
We pushed passed the crowd and then I felt a rough hand squeeze my hand. He then grabbed my fingers and ran them down his chiseled chest and spoke to me in Portuguese.
His name was Rafael and he was visiting from the Azores. I could tell by his voice that he was happy to be in San Francisco -- away from his island.
"We don't have Pride in the Azores," he shared, squeezing my hand some more.
It was tough to imagine a place without Pride in 2009. Then, all of a sudden, I sensed his body draw closer and his lips press against mine. For a few seconds, it seemed as though the entire street quieted down and only he and I existed.
He pulled away and got my number. We did the polite thing and promised to call, knowing full well neither one of us would. Heather spoke into my ear and told me that when I kissed the guy, a local TV crew recorded the make-out session. I couldn't help but laugh. As I rejoined our other friends, I thought back to the bearded guys and realized I had become them.
Belo Cipriani is a freelance journalist, the award-winning author of Blind: A Memoir and Midday Dreams, and a spokesperson for Guide Dogs for the Blind. Learn more at www.BeloCipriani.com. You are also invited to connect with him on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and YouTube.