Mark Estephen once experienced what he referred to as the "immorality" of being in a relationship with a person of the same sex — something he now actively tries to avoid, admittedly with some difficulty, and with the help of prayer.
Formerly Sabel Gonzales, a transgender beauty queen who competed internationally, Mark Estephen identified as a woman for nearly eight years.
But in January 2018, he surprised fans and followers of Sabel when he re-introduced himself with short hair, sporting traditionally masculine clothes, and going by his birth name.
In his time as Sabel, Mark Estephen recalled, "Nagpakasal ako, pinakasalan ako, nagkaroon ako ng asawa, nagkaroon ako ng magandang buhay bilang wife."
"But at the end of the day, it's not the answer to my satisfaction in life," he told ABS-CBN News' Jeff Fernando in a sit-down interview Monday.
Like much of the parts of Sabel he is trying to shed now as a man, Mark Estephen said his attraction to men hasn't simply gone away. He credits his faith as his source of strength to cope with what he referred to as a "struggle."
"Nandoon pa rin 'yung attraction. Na-a-attract pa rin ako pag nakakakita ako ng guwapo. Pinag-pe-pray ko na lang din," he explained.
"Ini-ignore ko na lang," Mark Estephen added, when asked how he deals with romantic advances from men. "That's the struggle, especially before, I lived with the immorality. But we need to flee [from] the immorality."
Entering a relationship — and building a family — with a woman has, in fact, become an option for him.
"Kung ano 'yung kalooban ng Diyos sa buhay ko, kung bibigyan niya ako ng wife na matatanggap ako, I want to experience to be a dad, kasi hindi ko naranasan. I want the experience to have kids," he said.
'HEAVEN OR HELL?'
Becoming a man again is an ongoing process — and a long one — Mark Estephen shared. He pointed out that transitioning as a transgender woman starting when he was 19 caused changes that he had wanted and eventually achieved at the time, but now cannot be so easily reversed.
"It takes time, because I took hormones a lot. Naging feminine 'yung body ko. Hindi iyan sa isang iglap lang, magiging katawang lalaki na," he said.
Despite these odds, Mark Estephen was intent on seeing through his decision to regain his original identity. That turning point came, he said, when he heard through the preaching of a Christian pastor, the "words of God from the Bible."
"Nagkaroon ako ng conviction," he called. "On that day na mamatay na ako, I don't know where I'm going, if it's hell or heaven. With that kind of lifestyle na meron ako, I know na I'm not 100 percent sure na pupunta ako sa langit."
This spurred the radical change he showed Sabel's followers at the start of the year, when he posted side by side his photos as a young boy, a transgender woman, and an adult Mark Estephen.
He admitted: "Sa isang iglap, magpapagupit ako ng buhok, magdadamit akong panlalaki ulit, it's not easy. Every time na nag-pe-pray ako kay Lord, I ask him, 'Lord, is this your desire in my life? Ito ba 'yung buhay na gusto mo para sa akin?' ... Niluhod ko sa Panginoon. Iniyak ko sa Panginoon. 'Lord, alam ko gagabayan mo ako in my journey.'"
Mark Estephen sought the same guidance when it came to the personal relationships he had formed as Sabel. Some friendships, for instance, became "awkward" as they'd long known her as the fabulous queen whose wit and grace earned her pageant crowns.
He explained: "Noong una, may awkwardness. Hindi ko sila iniwan, hindi nila ako iniwan, magkasama pa rin kami. Noong Sabel Gonzales ako hanggang maging Mark Estephen ako ulit, nandoon sila, at tinanggap nila, at masaya sila para sa akin.
"Naninibago sila na lalaki na ulit 'yung pananamit ko. 'Yung pagkilos ko, the way I act, the way I talk, is the same, but the desire of my heart to live as a man, iba na."
Asked whether he has urged any of his transgender friends to, like him, seek anew their identity "through God," Mark Estephen answered: "I respect them, because I believe that only Jesus can change people. What we can do is to pray for them, and eventually in the right time na dumating 'yung punto na tatawagin na sila ni Lord. Sa akin, walang nagsabi na kailangan ka magpakalalaki, kusa na lang na nagdesisyon ako para sa akin."
Having only come by the realization so far into his transition as a transgender woman, Mark Estephen said he nonetheless has no regrets being Sabel for nearly a decade.
"God is using it right now para magkaroon ng kaliwanagan ang mga kaibigan ko, and also sa ibang tao, na may pag-asa, there's hope if we just hold on to the promise of the Lord," he said.
Referring to his former identity, Mark Estephen added: "I admire her. She experienced how to live to be a woman. Minahal siya ng tao, minahal siya ng mundo, minahal siya ng LGBT community, and naging inspiration siya sa maraming tao."
While there are supporters of Sabel who have been understanding of Mark Estephen's crusade to "inspire others," he admittedly still received hurtful remarks from those who have been less encouraging.
Despite this, he said, "God is always there to comfort me."
"Ngayon masaya ako, kung ano'ng meron ako sa buhay. I'm so blessed, na kahit may struggles na dumarating sa buhay ko, I believe there is a God who is loving me and accepting me for who I am."