Everyone has a mental story about themselves. A basic narrative about who they are as a person. Kind of an expansion on the basic idea of self-identity. So instead of just something like, “I’m a husband and father that likes Star Wars,” they might go on to add, “but I grew up in this really small town and frequently felt isolated because of my interest in punk music, so I’ve moved to a larger city where there’s greater diversity in an effort to ensure that no matter what my kids like, they’ll have an opportunity to share that with others.” You can see that there’s more there than simply who the person is; the story gets into who he was, where he came from, his motivation, driving forces, etc.

Obviously, there’s a great deal more depth when you get into a person’s self-story; there’s a lot more detail and it covers more territory than a fairly basic self-identity label. But beyond the story itself, there’s a depth that is perhaps not intended to be conveyed.

I suspect most people would not be able to succinctly relay their self-narrative to you. It’s rare, I think, that people think about it formally; it’s just part of who they tell themselves they are. But, as an observer, you can probably get pretty close to what their self-story is by getting to know the person. Naturally, the more you know someone, the better idea you’ll have on their own self-narrative.

But that unintended depth I refer to is what’s interesting. You might find that you get to know someone and they think of themselves in a particular way, but then display characteristics that counter that. They might speak openly and frequently about being accepting of people, and trying to make sure their fandom stays as inclusive as possible, perhaps even getting in arguments with others who make fun of people doing crossplay. But if they also dismiss transgender individuals as elaborate cross-dressers or something, then their story doesn’t exactly match their actions. In fact, there’s a good chance that they don’t even realize there’s a contradiction there.

A Star Trek fan that doesn’t like diversity. A Superman fan who pirates digital comics and movies. An Avatar fan that thinks fracking is a good idea.

The problem, then, is if someone challenges another person’s self-narrative by pointing out such a disconnect, that can feel like a direct attack on their very identity, and they might lash out accordingly. The more central that aspect of the narrative is to the individual, the more aggressive the response can be. It sounds like a criticism of who they are.

What we tell ourselves about ourselves is very powerful. And while that certainly impacts all areas of our lives, it can become especially evident when our self-story is tied to an external property as in the case of fandoms. By aligning your values and identity to a public-facing property, that means that it’s on display for everyone. Which means it can be easy to be called out if your actions don’t mesh with the values purported in your fannish interests.