In his book, “Blind: A Memoir” Belo Miguel Cipriani recalls the harrowing night in 2007 when he lost his sight. He was 26 years old at the time. A group of childhood friends attacked him, seemingly for no reason. They beat him and kicked him repeatedly and mercilessly. One of those kicks destroyed his eyes.
It wasn't a gay bashing. Amazingly, Cipriani's attackers were gay. The reason for the attack remains vague, but it appears these former friends were offended that he had chosen going to school over spending more time with them.
The book recounts the deep depression, which followed, failed surgical attempts to save his sight, and Cipriani's deeply spiritual journey toward forgiveness and his life today as a happy, productive (albeit blind) gay man.
Cipriani wears many hats. He spoke to SFGN about his activities, the most recent of which is an educational video about himself and his beloved guide dog.
Can you recount the night of your attack?
At 26, I was assaulted by a group of gay men in San Francisco's Castro District. These guys were at one point my best friends growing up. They were a group of gay boys I met when I first came out in San Jose. We were like brothers but had drifted over time. When I stumbled upon them in the city that night, I was happy to see them. They greeted me with insults and instantly jumped me.
How did you feel emotionally after this? Was there ever a chance your sight could have been saved?
Although I had many eye surgeries, they all failed and I was left blind. The initial shock lasted a few days. Then, I became seriously depressed. It took a few months for me to work through my depression but eventually I was rehabilitated. I credit my family for my recovery, in particular my mom. She moved into my condo and didn't just help me learn to be blind, she helped me heal emotionally. She never told me it would be OK. She told me that blindness would be hard but not impossible to manage. She also said that blindness would bring people into my life I otherwise would never have met. She was right!
Tell us where you’re from?
I was born in Guatemala City to Brazilian parents. At three months of age, my parents left Guatemala for jobs with the Red Cross in Mexico. After living in Mexico for four years, my parents decided to relocate to San Jose, Cali.
Were they accepting of your sexuality?
I came out to my family as a teen and they were very accepting. My mom attended a few PFLAG meetings and took me to the local gay center. She allowed me to date, have boyfriends and let my gay friends hang out at our home. I feel like I became closer to my four sisters after I came out. If anything, coming out at 16 was the best thing for me. I no longer had to pretend or act. I was embraced fully for who I was.
Is there a chance your sight could still be restored through surgery?
My cause of blindness is retinal damage and currently there is no medical way to fix it. If a magical cure was to appear tomorrow, I would not take it. I have accepted my blindness just as I have accepted getting older. I am very happy being a blind man and I think it serves as a filter. The quality of men I date and new friends I meet has definitely improved since I lost my sight. I no longer have flaky or selfish friends. All the people in my life are kind-hearted.
Tell us how your book “Blind: A Memoir” came to be.
After being rehabilitated, learning braille, adaptive technology and receiving my first guide dog, I went to graduate school for my writing degree. I was tired of the inaccurate portrayals of the blind in books and movies and wanted to do something about it. I think writing became a sort of therapy for me.
I think one of the attributes to my positive attitude is that I poured all my feelings, both good and bad, onto the page. When I finished my memoir, I began to feel free. On the day my book was published, I forgave my attackers.
The book has made several high school and college reading lists. It also landed me a guest lectureship at Yale and my current appointment as writer-in-residence at Holy Names University in Oakland, Cali. My next book will be a novel and it's about dreams.
I'm a full time writer but I also make time for other projects I am passionate about. I do stand-up comedy and blog for business publications. I also train Capoeira and am the highest belted Capoeira player in the U.S.
Is it difficult navigating the gay dating scene without sight?
When I was sighted, I was the hunter. The one who always made the first move. As a blind person, that’s changed. Dating is not easier or harder, just different. I don't do online dating and tend to rely on meeting men at social events. My ex-boyfriend is a model. I met him at the supermarket. He began to help me get my groceries, and I didn't realize he wasn’t a clerk, until a clerk offered us assistance. He admitted to just being a patron and we both broke into bashful laughs. At the cash register he asked for my phone number.
Can you talk about your work with Guide Dogs For the Blind?
I am their spokesman and featured in their new documentary. The short film tells my story and explains all of the different services the agency offers to blind people at no charge. Guide Dogs For the Blind is the largest guide dog school in the country, yet they receive no government funding.
What are misconceptions about blind people in the LGBT community?
What many people forget is that disabled individuals make up the largest minority group in the country. They come in all sizes, even from the LGBT community. I feel that disabled people are not always included in gay movies or advertisements. In fact, many people are not aware that there is a big number of disabled gay men and lesbians.
Belo Cipriani encourages feedback and is happy to answer questions. Visit www.belocipriani.com for more information. Also please check out BPI: Blind Pride International @ www.blindlgbtpride.org