“Hey, I know you! You’re that meatball who loves cats!”

Kids speak like this. Honest in their brutality. Opportunistic in social combat. I’ve long forgotten the name of the boy who spat this remark at me, but not the remark itself. He was a friend of a friend of (perhaps) a friend. A big group of us swam in the warm Atlantic Ocean on the North Florida coast one Saturday or Sunday. He made himself and the other grade-school kids laugh by slapping the “cat-loving meatball” label on me.

The truth is, the remark didn’t hurt much — I’d face far worse before becoming an adult — and in a way it made me proud. Military brats such as myself often fear being invisible, and “cat-loving meatball” handed me strong evidence that my peers did, in fact, see me. Still, I couldn’t escape where it placed me in the social order. Meatball translates to goofball, oddball, misfit — take your pick — and loving cats is what earned me meatball status to begin with.

I won’t go on about bullying or the Long Lonely Road of the Nonconformist, but the above experience illustrates that from the start, male-bodied people who love cats (and people in general who love cats) are often labeled as “other.” We’re sometimes seen as relatively harmless loners with laughable mental disorders. This has two effects. First, even if we don’t define ourselves as “cat people,” we have a difficult time finding individuals who’ll take us seriously about cats. Second, when we do find community, it can be with people who inadvertently exacerbate the social divisions by proudly proclaiming themselves “crazy cat people” (which I can understand, if not embrace).

There’s also a matter of personal style. While I love cats, I don’t want to wear the Chairman Meow T-shirt, carry the I [Heart] My Cat giant-paw keychain, or mount a big metal “Cat Xing” sign on my living room wall.

I asked My Cat From Hell TV host Jackson Galaxy about “cat people” identity in an interview last year. Galaxy acknowledged that people who love cats have far fewer chances to express their feline leanings in public than, say, dog lovers (“There’s no cat park — no cat playdate,” he said) but he warned against playing to the stereotypes too much.

“Own your inner crazy cat lady, but bring more people into the club,” he said. “Don’t celebrate and exclude others at the same time.”

I hope Jackson Galaxy attends a conference that Susan Michals is organizing for next year in Los Angeles called CatConLA, because it promises to bridge the social divides I’ve described here, and I believe he’d be an ideal ambassador. People who’ve already agreed to appear at CatConLA (here’s its Facebook page) include Simon Tofield (creator of Simon’s Cat), Mike Bridavsky (Lil BUB’s “Dude”), Ben Huh (founder and CEO of Cheezburger), Kate Benjamin (founder of Hauspanther), and Will Braden (creator of Henri Le Chat Noir).

Full disclosure: I’ve told you about Susan Michals before. I’ve known her since our college days at San Francisco State in the 1980s, and she’s an occasional Catster contributor. She produced Cat Art Show LA early this year, which drew more than 4,000 visitors.

Fuller disclosure: I’m also on the advisory board of CatConLA, which these days means Susan bounces ideas off me, and I’ll have some speaking or moderating role yet to be determined at the conference. Also on the advisory board is Catster contributor and all-around superstar Angie Bailey.

So. What is CatConLA?

“CatConLA is all about debunking the cat lady myth,” Michals said. “More often than not, when you say you have a cat (or two) it immediately conjures up a sort of Grey Gardens meets Miss Havisham image.”

Okay, what about the style component?

“The bottom line is, you can be stylish and still have a cat — all at the same time,” she said. “This is not a situation of never the two shall meet — they do already, and the goal of CatConLA is to make that the norm.”

“It’s like Comic-Con … but for cat people,” she said.

The two-day event takes place June 6 and 7, 2015, in downtown Los Angeles. In addition to the speakers listed above, it features art, furniture, clothing, and toys. This is an ideal venue for Kate Benjamin, who co-wrote the upcoming Catification: Designing a Happy and Stylish Home for Your Cat (and You!) with Galaxy.

Said Cheezburger’s Ben Huh in the CatConLA press release, “Conferences and events like CatConLA are key to furthering the popularity of cats and the variety of content and art that is being created around cats. Since there aren’t cat parks, this is the IRL ‘dog park’ for cat connoisseurs — we get to share our stories and celebrate the power of cats.”

Michals describes it as “part expo, part symposium.” So as I see it, compared with other pet-related conferences, it’s more than SuperZoo (which is primarily a pet-product expo) and different than BarkWorld or BlogPaws (which concern themselves largely with pet bloggers and other types of writers). CatConLA seems aimed more at people who have cats but are less “in the know” than others, and who want to learn more about cats. Also, it seems aimed at people like me — people who love cats and want to see new stylish things and meet like-minded people.

More than eight months remain before CatConLA opens, so a lot more can be added in terms of speakers, products, vendors, and educational opportunities. Regardless of my role at the conference, I’ll tell you more about developments and ultimately post from the event here on Catster as well as on social media. I hope to see some of Catster’s freelance writers there, too.

Would you attend CatConLA? Will you? What kind of things would you like to see at a cat-centric conference that aren’t offered elsewhere? Tell me in the comments.

Cat Dandy has style, will travel:

About Keith Bowers: This broad-shouldered, bald-headed, leather-clad motorcyclist also has passions for sharp clothing, silver accessories, great writing, the arts, and cats. This career journalist loves painting, sculpting, photographing, and getting on stage. He once was called “a high-powered mutant,” which also describes his cat, Thomas. He is senior editor at Catster and Dogster.