Last week, Silicon Valley had yet another incident where a tech industry event was insulting to women — and one woman in particular.
It turns out that the woman involved, prominent violinist Gabi Holzwarth, has an amazing story of overcoming a decade-long battle with an eating disorder that almost killed her. She says her romance with Uber CEO Travis Kalanick helped save her life.
She’s now been on the path to recovery for about a year, shortly after she and Kalanick started dating, and has gone three months without a relapse.
“Travis, he’s been so helpful in my recovery. He’s been such a rock. That’s a side that no one really sees about him,” she told Business Insider.
To recap: During the the eighth annual Crunchies Awards last Thursday, actor/comedian TJ Miller, known for his role on HBO’s satire TV show “Silicon Valley,” was poking fun at Valley startups when he made a joke about Kalanick, then one about venture capitalist Shervin Pishevar.
The jokes slammed Holzwarth’s boyfriend and one of her dear friends. (She had met Kalanick at a party hosted by Pishevar, who had hired her to play, she told us.) Holzwarth, who had been laughing and enjoying the show, shouted a good-natured “boo” at him. Miller heard the boo and went into heckler management mode, at one point calling her the derogatory “b-word” (yes, the one that rhymes with “hitch”).
“Did you just call me a b – – – -?” Holzwarth called out incredulous.
Miller refused to let it drop. After that uncomfortable moment, he kept “starring at me,” she said. He couldn’t help but notice she had her dog on her lap (“my therapy dog” Holzwarth describes him, telling us her dog helps keep her calm so she won’t relapse). The dog set Miller off on a whole new round of uncomfortable teasing. For her part, Holzwarth kept answering his questions, including a whole spiel about Shyp, the company she joined less than three weeks ago as a product intern. She was attending the Crunchies with her Shyp co-workers and Kalanick.
Miller’s use of the b-word startled Holzwarth. That scene, and a few other derogatory incidents toward woman at the show, set the Valley abuzz. Tweets tweeted. Medium posts posted. Twitter’s Katie Jacobs Stanton wrote, “I was so uncomfortable I wanted to leave,” and that she was “saddened and disappointed to see such a public lack of respect for women.” Techcrunch apologised.
The one person who was not mortified was Holzwarth herself.
She was mad.
It turns out, Holzwarth had suffered through some unspeakable violence as a child, including one incident at age 13 where she was dragged by her hair and called that word, she wrote on Medium.
“I struggled with eating disorders that almost killed me and took away 10 years of my life,” she told Business Insider. She’s better but still sick, she says. She has osteoporosis and is on quite a bit of medication, she said in a TedX Talk she gave in November.
Her eating disorder was the result of her being too ashamed to talk about her trauma, she says.
Over a year ago, she was so out of control, that she had no real friends and had to quit her job. “An eating disorder is an addiction,” she says. “I go to AA meetings now.”
A Silicon Valley native, she started playing her violin in the streets of Palo Alto for tips, because she knew she wanted to be healthy “and didn’t know what else to do.”
She quickly learned the spots that got the most traffic and earned the most cash. Word got out about her. People started hiring her to play at parties and other events. She made friends with the titans of Silicon Valley and she slowly started telling them about her illness, her story.
She had told Kalanick she suffered from eating disorders when they started dating, but she hadn’t been completely honest that it was bulimia and that she was relapsing.
About three months ago, after another relapse, she was playing a gig and was so weak she could barely finish. She knew she had to get help.
“I told him absolutely everything and that I was 30 pounds underweight. Then I wrote a Facebook post, it got hundreds of likes, it said ‘I’m going to have to stop playing gigs for a while, I have to recover.’ I was crying when I wrote it, feeling so relieved to have this out in the open.”
He told her, “We’re going to do this together,” she remembers, and he’s been good to his word. “He checks on me every day. He rushes home — he can be in the middle of ridiculous crazy at the office — and he comes home if I need help.”
She started writing about her addiction and recovery. Arianna Huffington saw one of her posts and asked her to write for the Huffington Post.
“You can’t recover alone from an addiction,” she says. “Now, whenever I have an opportunity, even when someone on stage call me a b—- or whatever, I think if I can help one person, that’s why I speak up.”
So when Miller called her that word in public, he wasn’t just talking back to a heckler. He was insulting someone who will no longer tolerate being insulted.