Did you hear the one about the male model who didn’t like people looking at his pictures?

It seems like the set up to a bad joke. But in reality, it’s the premise of a lawsuit against Genre magazine that has models, lawyers, publishers, and gay fans of models in barely-there tighty-whities in a grand old tizzy.

Self-proclaimed straight model Benjamin Massing, who was featured in the March/April issue of Genre, is suing the publication along with photographer Rick Day. Shortly after a photo session with Day (done, Massing asserts, to acquire shots for his private portfolio), scantily clad photos appeared in Genre (whose gay-as-a-picnic-basket vibe and marketing strategy is undeniable). Shortly after that, Massing filed a lawsuit. It claimed personal damages in the form of being hit on by gay men as well as the perception that his presence in Genre implied Massing has lavender leanings. The resulting fallout has likely caused more damage to Massing’s reputation and viability as a professional model than the Genre photos ever could.

The week after he filed the lawsuit, Massing fired off a missive to the website Querrty.com, asserting that his legal actions were based on “unauthorized use, distribution and publication of my image” - and not the vengeful doings of a homophobe. Massing wrote: “Numerous media outlets focused on the fact that these images appear in a publication geared toward the gay community. Based upon these reports, some have mischaracterized me as homophobic, which could not be further from the truth. The real issue is I never signed a release or gave permission to use or alter my pictures for adult-themed media. . .the use of my image in a sexually explicit way without my permission violates my rights.”

Attorney Andrew Buzin, of the Jacob D. Fuchsberg Law Firm, is working on the Massing case with attorney Liah Catanese. They’ve both stopped doing interviews with the media - and are likely responsible for Massing’s low profile. A wise move, perhaps, since his public statements only increased the perception that he was, at best, filing an opportunistic lawsuit - and at worst, is a homophobe.

Also closed-lipped about the whole affair is photographer Rick Day (whose representative formally refused to be interviewed by or issue a comment to Edge). Even notorious publicity hound and Genre editor Neal Boulton has refused to talk to the media. An October 2, 2008 posting on Queerty noted that both Boulton and Genre publisher William Kapfer actually denied their knowledge of the lawsuit.

In the midst of the public relations nightmare that followed the announcement of his lawsuit, Manning received support from a high-profile presence in the gay publishing community - as noted in a September 30, 2008 Queerty positng. Jeff Woodward, associate publisher of the beloved and often profane NYC-based fag rag Next, sent Queerty.com a note proclaiming “Ben’s a friend of mine. . .and straight. . .but as far as you can get from homophobic. . .He is a Florida friend of Next’s owner’s boyfriend who is also from Florida. He would always hang around the Next offices when he was up in NYC doing shoots and auditions and all the boys here loved him.”

Now before you go labeling that statement as smoking gun proof of Manning’s secret homosexuality or not-so-secret homophobia, note that Woodward goes on to state “I haven’t spoken to him in a while, but can assure you he’s not the idiotic homophobe he’s being portrayed as. He’s a sweet funny kid who is going to go far. He knows the gay boys like to look at him and could care less about how that is perceived.”

But it’s that last sentence that sticks in the craw of so many in the gay community. Why would a man who is comfortable palling around with gays and “could care less” about how he’s perceived file a lawsuit as retribution for appearing in a gay-friendly publication like Genre? Sadly, everybody who has a good answer for that one has stopped talking to the press.

Read the full story from Edge Publications.